It wasn't a perfect showing by any means but St. John's did not play poorly against Butler Saturday at Carnesecca Arena. They shot 46 percent from the field, had less turnovers and more assists than the Bulldogs and shot 79 percent from the free throw line. D'Angelo Harrison also scored 31 points but all of these stats just weren't enough to get their first Big East win.
"I think our guys performed well," Steve Lavin said. "This is a relentless, punishing league and when you go to five guys it's difficult."
The Johnnies couldn't create stops down the stretch without Jordan's length and on ball defense and offensively they missed Rysheed Jordan's playmaking ability. Only three players scored in double figures and only five total players scored at least a single point for St. John's.
Butler has so much chemistry defensively and the Johnnies didn't have enough offensive weapons. The Bulldogs knew what was coming. It was up to four guys, Obekpa, Pointer, Greene and Harrison offensively. That's it. Branch has been solid this season at getting the team into their set plays and pressuring the ball defensively but he isn't the offensive threat that Jordan is.
"When you go with five guys, it's difficult," Lavin said. "It's tough when you had a run with a certain rotation and now you have to completely change that."
The bench did not have a single point and they didn't have any production what so ever. Felix Balamolu may have helped defensively but he too was inactive with an ankle injury.
St. John's just doesn't have enough depth without Jordan and Balamolu and it showed against Butler as the starters all played at least 34 minutes with Pointer and Harrison playing the entire game. Harrison admitted after the game just how difficult that is.
"I know I have to get into a little better shape to compete at a high level on every single possession and I know the older guys know that too."
On top of the loss of Jordan, the Red Storm had a tough time with Kellen Dunham. The junior guard was terrific as he scored 28 points on six three pointers. This was the second straight game in which the "known," as Lavin calls the best player on the opposing team, demolished the chances of a win.
"Dunham didn't get rattled and he let the game come to him," Lavin said. "He didn't force anything but yet he picked his spots. The last two games our three point defense was not at the level we need it to be to be successful. We need to have better shooter awareness."
Due to Kellen Dunham's success, the Johnnies weren't able to play their 1-3-1 defense. Lavin said he felt that the zone defense would have opened up more outside shooting opportunities.
Surprisingly, Butler did not get anything out of their bench either, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 0 points. Kelan Martin, a promising freshman, only played 7 minutes after struggling in his opening Big East game against Villanova.
This team does have some positives moving forward that can spark optimism throughout Queens. The Johnnies have experience, confidence and they never want to back down.
"We know we have to get better for Villanova but it's all stuff we can control," Harrison said. "So that's a good thing. It's not as bad as this looks."
As far as Rysheed Jordan playing against Villanova, Lavin said there is "no chance" of that happening.