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Three takeaways: St. John’s at Georgetown

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Hero ball, the defensive performance, and a “flush this game” outing

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Mullin saw just what the fans saw last night in the 83-55 beating the Georgetown Hoyas laid on St. John’s. A tale of two halves, one where even the good parts turned to rot after the halftime intermission.

“In the second half our energy and effort on both sides wasn't there,” Mullin said. “We had some decent outings where offensively we were good and the defense struggled, but tonight it was both; especially in the second half.”

The second half was a lack of composure that allowed the game the get far out of hand in the way the Penn State game got out of hand - and in the way stretches of the Minnesota, Xavier, LIU and Creighton games were non-competitive.

That second half featured, before Marcus LoVett hit a three off his own dribble with around nine minutes left:

  • St. John’s reaching their sixth foul committed at the 14:36 mark, less than six minutes into the 20 minute period;
  • One made layup versus eight turnovers, six missed three-pointers, four missed layups, two missed two-point jump shots, two missed free throws;
  • Eight of Georgetown’s ten fast-break points in the second half;
  • Tariq Owens’ fourth and fifth foul (at 9:57 and 9:37 respectively) and Malik Ellison’s fourth foul (at 18:29)

Georgetown, coming into the game at 0-4 in the league, wasn’t necessarily great. The Hoyas shot 4/17 from outside the arc, turned the ball over on 18% of their possessions and shot 50% inside the arc despite the fast break points.

But St. John’s shot 5/30 outside the arc (17%), 11/28 inside the arc (39%), turned the ball over on 20% of their possessions, and sent the Hoyas to the foul line 33 times (that may have been aided by some whistle-happy refs, since St. John’s also took 27 trips to the line).

Let’s dig in a little more...

An all-around bad game - from the leaders

St. John’s had an awful game.

From Malik Ellison’s fouls (and he might have been the most consistent player on the floor, when he was on the floor), to Federico Mussini’s low-scoring night (he hasn’t reached double figures since the LIU game), to a breakdown in defensive effort that made the game far less competitive than the previous two losses, it was a poor performance all around.

The thing is, St. John’s didn’t look overmatched in the first half, just a touch off - in part because their steady hand, freshman Shamorie Ponds, had an off game.

Our friends at Casual Hoya, in their game thread, wondered if Ponds was inheriting the D`Angelo Harrison Hoya Struggle crown (my words, not theirs) - the star player for St. John’s who just can’t score against the height and style of the Hoyas.

This has merit. Even when Ponds has struggled from outside the arc, he has been excellent in finding other ways to make an impact - by passing, by scoring on two-point jumpers, with quick hands on defense. Despite the 12 points, Ponds reflected the team’s struggle then lack of composure.

Ponds, LoVett, Bashir Ahmed and Ellison all were guilty of trying to get the team going through individual scoring efforts - which purists might fault, but those are the skills that have powered St. John’s all season.

But when those shots didn’t fall, the backcourt and the team as a whole was slow to switch back to defense and slow the Hoyas, who were all-too-happy to dunk their way to victory.

Trust the process?

No, we’re not going to discuss Chris Mullin’s job. For a rebuild like this, that’s a lot early, knowing that this year was going to come with ups and downs, and knowing that this roster is not constructed to handle the size of Georgetown (or Xavier for that matter).

No, we’re going to bring up the way that, when the offense just wasn’t working very well and the shots were not falling, that the team got away from sharing the ball.

It’s not just the seven assists (on 16 made baskets). It’s not just the team’s lowest offensive efficiency in a game by a solid margin - the team has been fairly consistent in scoring. It’s not the number of three-pointers taken - the core of the Red Storm offense under Mullin.

It’s the way the guards looked away from getting touches inside, taking a little more time to try and find a opportunities for others. There was a lack of ball movement as the snowballing Georgetown lead grew. Even the garbage time failed to improve the ball movement.

The Georgetown zone, playing high and out beyond the three-point line, made a difference. But the first half saw some nice passing to Tariq Owens (who, yes, blew a pair of dunks) and Kassoum Yakwe.

There was a semblance of interior offense in the first half.

There was hero ball in the second.

Yakwe revival?

At least Kassoum Yakwe had a decent stretch - when his teammates were following the plot long enough to pass him the ball.

His nine points are modest, but he took the fight to the much bigger Hoya front line on pick and rolls, attacking the basket quickly in the first half. St. John’s has looked to activate him early in the past two games; if he gets his mid range jump shot to fall and receives the ball better off the pass, Yakwe could emerge as a frontcourt option.

On defense, he was okay and competitive, but gave up a lot of size.

Still, an active and engaged Yakwe can make the St. John’s offense more balanced. Given his physical tools, his emergence could cause a Red Storm surge.

Moving on

Perhaps a level of “here we go again” creeps in for a young team learning how to win. The team has leaned heavily on Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett; and when they’re not lighting it up from outside, some other player has to step up. And the defense has to remain attentive.

Still, patience is needed from the players to overcome deficits. And the team, from staff to players, needs to find a way to put up better efforts on defense - not just in defending fast breaks, but in finding ways of earning stops when the other team is gaining confidence.

Ponds and LoVett will have better performances, as will the offense - if only because the team has been solid on that side of the ball.

But how will the defense improve when the shots aren’t falling? That’s worthy of more scrutiny.