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From the stands: takeaways from the St. John’s win over Binghamton

Who’s at the point? Defense and rebounding, progress/ challenges

Bashir Ahmed defends Binghamton scorer JC Show
Wendell Cruz

St. John’s ran away from the Binghamton Bearcats (final score: 77-61) behind a fast start and a second-half surge.

The slow start of the first two games was not repeated this evening as St. John’s went to Bashir Ahmed at the onset and he responded with four points. A relatively close first half found St. John’s leading at the intermission 39-32 with a Kassoum Yakwe jam off a Marcus LoVett miss at the buzzer extending the margin to seven.

The second half started well with a LoVett three and, a short time later, a Shamorie Ponds steal leading to a breakaway dunk. However, Binghamton crawled back into the game to within four points. Then the game opened up for St. John’s and Ponds was in the middle of it. A drive to the basket brought Binghamton defenders to him and a nifty pass to Yankuba Sima for a dunk started a run that ended with a Federico Mussina steal feeding a Sima dunk.

It was coasting thereafter for St. John’s

So here are our three takeaways from the Binghamton Game

Coming Out Party for Shamorie Ponds, but who is playing the Point Guard?

Shamorie Ponds was impressive. St. John’s fans got to see the ability that was anticipated from the top high school player in New York City last year. His stat line says it all: 21 points, including 4/6 from the three point line. In addition he had three steals, four assists and an impressive ten rebounds.

Marcus LoVett demonstrated that he, along with Ponds and Federico Mussini, has a soft touch from out deep. This will certainly make this threesome a challenge for opponents to guard this season.

But who is playing the point guard position?

In the first two games, against Baruch and Bethune-Cookman, it was clear that the offense began with Marcus LoVett. He brought the ball up, often penetrated and passed off to Sima, Tariq Owens or Yakwe underneath or back out to Mussini or Ponds. There was a degree of order to the offense.

Although the game against Binghamton started this way with Ahmed being featured, by the end of the first half, it evolved into a more haphazard style. Soon it was Ponds or Mussini playing the point with LoVett setting up in the corner for a successful avalanche of threes.

St. John’s athletes used their quickness to drive past their opponents resulting in layups or a dishes to a teammates but with little semblance of order.

The resultant chaos required Malik Ellison, at about the 14:00 minute mark of the second half, to take charge, calling for the ball, sending teammates to positions on the floor. With proper spacing restored, Ellison was able to penetrate and dish to Sima for a dunk as a 20-4 run was beginning.

Sima dunks.
Wendell Cruz

Ponds made some nice passes off of penetration in the second half, as well.

Who is playing point guard? Perhaps it’s a committee of dual-threat passers and scorers.

Number Two: Defensive Stops in the Paint, Effective Press

Kassoum Yakwe had five blocked shots. But “Fans in the stands” still express concerns that, once facing more formidable opponents, St. John’s may find themselves susceptible to strong front lines that they will have difficulty controlling.

The St. John’s front line played with purpose against a Binghamton front line that rivaled them in size. There were no put back points by Binghamton. Owens successfully fronted attempts to feed into the post and Yakwe stepped forward several times to challenge Binghamton drivers to the basket.

The guards provided assistance and both LoVett and later Ponds made nice defensive stops on Binghamton star, J.C. Show, as he drove to the basket forcing him to give up the ball having no place to go. St. John’s had a few breakdowns when the front line did not pick up driving guards from Binghamton, but, until the game got out of hand, the defensive effort seemed solid.

One concern, which may be attributed to the frequent substitution of players into and out of the game, was some confusion as to proper rotations. On a couple of occasions Sima and Owens were covering guards 20 to 25 feet from the basket and were drawn away from the boards.

St. John’s did demonstrate a dynamic press during the team’s run in the second half. Though pressing only for a few minutes, it led to several turnovers and layups that put the game out of reach for Binghamton.

However, after St. John’s took a substantial lead in the second half, the defense became sloppy. Discipline was lacking and Binghamton players were left open for three point attempts.

The team is young and must learn that every possession matters, players must get back, pick up their defensive assignments and always contest a shot or drive to the basket. St. John’s did an admirable job for most of the game.

Against a more talented opponent most of the game will not be enough.

Number Three: Rebounding

Gene Keady, assistant coach at St. John’s under Steve Lavin, stated two years ago that D’Angelo Harrison was the best rebounding guard he had seen in his 30 years of basketball. Harrison was 6’4’’ tall and averaged 5.5 rebounds per game during his senior year.

Shamorie Ponds, 6’1”, had ten rebounds today.

The four St. John’s guards had 16 rebounds or 39% of the total for the team. Late in the game a “Fan in the stands” turned to me and stated, “I hope we get better on the defensive boards. We have two 6’11” players and were unable to be in control.”

Unlike the Bethune-Cookman game, when St. John’s was outrebounded well into the second half of the game, this was not the case tonight. However, the frontline of St. John’s needs to become more assertive in hitting the defensive boards. St. John’s guards have been effective in assisting but, when facing taller guards on Big East teams, their effectiveness will be challenged.

So it is on to Minnesota

A step up in competition will be followed by Michigan State and a trip to the Bahamas. The challenge in these games is substantial.

One fan, who described herself as a casual fan but who attends as a season ticket holder, concluded, “The team is fast this year and fun to watch”.

Fast and fun … add a little more consistent defense and rebounding, and it may become fast, fun and successful. It was a positive outing against Binghamton. We still have reason to believe. But one game at a time.