A strong Big East Conference opener for St. John’s ends with a win over the ranked Butler Bulldogs. Some development was seen in the young team, even. Take, for example, this comment:
“We go into dry spells during so many games and we don’t know how to get out of them,” one fan shared at the onset of St. John’s win over Butler.
Before a sold out, energized crowd last night, St. John’s kept the dry spells to a minimum, never giving in when adversity struck. Here’s how the game went down - from the perspective of the fans in the seats.
The game started slowly on the offensive end. Ellison opened the scoring with a jumper from the key. Butler eventually took an 8 to 4 lead and the anxious crowd came alive after a Kassoum Yakwe dunk off a beautiful feed from Shamorie Ponds at the 14:20 mark of the first half. Ponds also showed determined defense against playmaker Tyler Lewis of Butler, who had only one assist and four points during the game.
Butler demonstrated its offensive skills by continually feeding the ball into the low post to 6’7” senior Andrew Chrabascz. St. John’s appropriately double-teamed and Chrabascz was adept at passing to teammate Tyler Wideman for easy two-footers under the basket. Wideman led Butler scorers shooting 8 out of 11 and gathering four offensive rebounds usually resulting in put back baskets. Butler led 17 to 11 at the 11:23 timeout mostly due to the efficient play of Wideman.
Bashir Ahmed suddenly came alive with seven points over the next three and a half minutes and the lead was cut to one point, 21-20 Butler. One season holder, upon looking at the overhead scoreboard at center court asked, “we have one assist and seven turnovers … how are we only one point behind?”
At the time St. John’s, had only hit one three pointer.
During the 3:04 timeout a seven year old fan stated that he comes to St. John’s games with his grandfather once a year. He remembered seeing St. John’s lose to Butler in a close game two years ago and was the first to say this evening, “St. John’s is going to win tonight, I know it.”
When asked who he thought was playing the best, he responded, “number one (Bashir Ahmed) because he scores a lot of points and makes cool slam dunks.”
Ten seconds later, Ahmed stole a pass and drove to the basket for a very cool slam dunk making the score 33-30 Butler.
After every St. John’s basket chants of “Defense! Defense!” arose in the crowd and when St. John’s got the ball with the score tied and 30 seconds left in the half the crowd stood up. It didn’t matter that Marcus LoVett missed a three-pointer with seconds left in the half. All was well at Carnesecca.
St. John’s outshot Butler in the first half and had two more blocks but Butler led in assists, steals and forced five more turnovers than St. John’s forced. It was truly an even match and a long time St. John’s fan commented, “Whichever coach makes the proper adjustments and convinces his team to follow them… that team will be the winner.”
The second half started with Butler running set plays that often resulted in mismatches which the Bulldogs were adept at taking advantage of. Fans wondered what St. John’s could do to counter Butler’s effective strategy.
At the 10:30 mark Butler had a ten-point lead and the Bulldogs were credited with 12 assists with St. John’s gathering only four.
Fans commented, “I guess we know who made the best halftime adjustments.” Some wondered when St. John’s would go into its press that had brought the team back in many games. Nevertheless, energy remained high on the court and in the stands and fans called out, “there still is time.”
Two free throws by Ponds and a quick steal and layup by Ahmed after a time out dropped the Butler lead to six.
“Defense… defense!” resonated through Carnessecca Arena.
St. John’s went to the press and, though few steals occurred, Butler was rattled. Twice Bulldog players called timeouts because they could not inbound the ball. The significance of using these timeouts became magnified in the last minute of the game when Butler had no timeouts to take when the game was on the line.
St. John’s pressure took time off the clock and Butler found it difficult to set up their offense in a timely fashion. The number 13 team in the country, which scored 61 points in the first twenty nine minutes of the game, scored just 12 points in the last eleven minutes.
At the 4:00 minute mark one of the season ticket holders commented during a break in the action, “wouldn’t it be nice for these kids to win this game?”
At the 2:00 minute mark, Shamorie Ponds hit a three from the corner and an already energized crowd became louder. When Malik Ellison stole the ball and drove in for a dunk to tie the score at the 1:30 mark, Carnesecca Arena erupted.
From then on there was a LoVett jumper, an Ellison rebound and foul shot for the lead, an Owens offensive rebound and the Shamorie Ponds show at the end of the game to seal the victory.
Three Takeaways from the Stands
St. John’s coaches made needed adjustments. The effectiveness of the Butler inside game diminished as the game went on. Near the end of the game a Bulldog was driving to the basket with a second Bulldog on the left wing. At the beginning of the game St. John’s defenders reacted to similar plays by converging on the driver leaving the wing open. This time Ellison started to double team then dropped back to cover the wing. The Bulldog, driving with his passing lane cut off, had nothing effective to do and missed the subsequent shot. Just one of several little actions that make a difference in a closely contested game.
Fans Make a Difference. The St John’s recovery seemed to take forever. The team often got within two or three points only to have a talented Butler team find a way to remain ahead.
Butler again increased its lead to five with 2:39 remaining in the game, and the team momentarily looked deflated but the crowd responded … “There is still time, keep working… defense… defense”.
After the game Shamorie Ponds stated, “I just want to credit the crowd. They were amazing … without them, we wouldn’t have won”. Maybe it was this moment to which he was referring. St. John’s fans do make a difference.
How about those Junior College Transfers? The seven year old fan, who loved Bashir Ahmed’s game, was not the only one. Ahmed scored nineteen points, had five rebounds, three steals and that “very cool” slam dunk near the end of the first half. He carried the Red Storm in the first half to a tie score erasing earlier Butler leads, then passed the mantle of leadership to Shamorie Ponds in the second half.
How about Darien Williams? With six points, giving the Red Storm an offensive force under the basket and six rebounds in 22 minutes, he made a difference when it was very much needed. His rebound total was, by far, the highest number of rebounds per minutes played with five of the rebounds on the defensive end stopping Butler possessions.
So St. John’s basketball is, per our seven year old fan, “cool” again. As there was time to come back and win this game, there is time to save the season. On to DePaul on New Year’s Day and more ranked teams to follow.
There is another day of Red Storm basketball to get excited about. Let’s fill Carnesecca with people and support on January 4th to energize the team onto victory over a talented Creighton team.