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Three takeaways from St. John’s versus Fordham: on the move

As fans see it: movement without ball, defense stands tall

Cheerleaders wave the flags
Wendell Cruz

The team, which sleepwalked just ten days ago in a defeat to 341st ranked Delaware State, woke up in a resounding way, even without leading scorer Marcus LoVett, defeating the Fordham Rams 90 to 62. Brilliantly led by point guard Shamorie Ponds, who scored 26 points and importantly dished out nine assists, the Storm was “on the move” throughout the game.

Fans in the stands were energized. They stated, at the first time out, that this was the best movement without the ball by the St John’s players all year.

By the middle of the second half one fan stated that there were more back door cuts in this game than in all the previous games combined. A second suggested that, when LoVett is healthy, Coach Mullin should “play the four guards with Bashir Ahmed and run the opponent off the court.”

Hustle plays were abundant by the Red Storm. At the 16:00 minute mark of the first half Kassoum Yakwe grabbed an offensive rebound, passed the ball out to Shamorie Ponds then cut back door to the basket for a return pass from Ponds and a dunk to put St. John’s up 10 to 4.

The Fordham Rams interestingly were rarely hitting the offensive boards in the game and, upon taking a shot, were dropping back on defense. Even with such a defensive strategy in place, St. John’s behind Ponds, Malik Ellison (four assists) and Federico Mussini (3 assists and 20 points on 7 for 9 shooting) were able to push the ball successfully for many fast break layups or open three point shots.

St. John’s hit 58% of its shots and impressively had 24 assists on 34 baskets.

Expectations for a Red Storm victory were based on applying a pressure defense, forcing turnovers resulting in fast break baskets. What made this performance special was that Fordham did a good job protecting the ball and only had nine turnovers in the game. Yet St. John’s was quite able to get an effective fast break throughout the game.

Takeaway One: Movement Throughout the Game

Unlike several previous games, where there were significant moments of one on one basketball, this was not the case in the Fordham game.

Whether it was Richard Freudenberg running the baseline until he became open for a three point shot, which he made at the 8:00 mark of the first half or it was the frontline cutting to the basket for pinpoint passes from Ponds and Ellison for layups, movement was abundant throughout the game from this well prepared team.

One special sequence came at the 17:20 mark of the second half. Ellison brought the ball up and fed Ponds on the left side of the key. Ponds returned the ball to Ellison who quickly passed to Owens under the basket on the right hand side. The Fordham defense collapsed and Owens fed across court to an open Ponds who hit a three and was fouled, making the foul shot for a four point play and a lead of 50 to 36.

Takeaway Two: More Impactful Play from the Frontline

For St. John’s fans one of the special encouraging signs came at the start of the half when Tariq Owens hit an uncontested 18 foot jump shot just past the foul line to increase the lead to 45-33. This is what the offense needs – a threat out of the post by the front line.

At the 15:23 mark of the second half Yakwe took a bullet pass from Ponds and went right to the hoop, without his usual dribble, for a layup, extending the lead to 19 points.

Bahir Ahmed, scored eleven points, most came on drives to the bucket.

Is the front line coming alive?

Takeaway Three: Defense Stands Tall

The anticipated number of steals by St. John’s and turnovers did not occur but strong defense did.

In the first half Christian Sengfelder seems unstoppable hitting several three point shots which kept Fordham in the game. A defensive adjustment by St. John’s at the onset of the second half in which Owens and later Alibegovic began shadowing Sengfelder cut down on his effectiveness as St. John’s built its lead.

In past games the defense seemed to have extended moments of uninspired play, guards being broken down and front line players late to cover. With an exception of a couple of minutes near the end of the first half, St. John’s defenders regularly challenged Fordham shots resulting in a shooting percentage for Fordham of 36% throughout the game. The Red Storm totaled ten blocks during the game.

“What I Like”

During halftime, with the Red Storm leading 42 to 33, a season ticket holder stated that she had been coming to games for three years. What she most enjoyed was “the intensity of the game and seeing the development of the students”. By coming game in and game out she stated, “you get to know them”.

A second fan predicted that, with the growth of Shamorie Ponds this season, “he could become one of the best players in St. John’s history. He has that much talent”.

Shamorie Ponds defends Joseph Chartouny
Wendell Cruz

So it’s on to L.I.U. on Sunday then Penn State and an away game at Syracuse. The players are starting to believe in themselves again. Federico Mussini stated, “Coach Mullin gave us the motivation to play hard. We play for him.” We fans need to start believing for them.