Did St. John’s turn a corner this weekend?
In a season of ups and downs, the St. John’s Red Storm (9-11, 3-4 Big East) hoped to begin a two game homestand last Saturday with a monumental upset over the #3 Villanova Wildcats in front of a packed crowd at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
However, Villanova’s experienced roster was too much for the Red Storm to handle, as the Johnnies lost their fourth straight game by the score of 70-57.
Fortunately, the Red Storm were able to bounce back with a much-needed 78-68 win over DePaul on Monday, in front of a sellout crowd at Carnesecca Arena - led offensively by Malik Ellison, who scored a career-high 23 points.
What did the Red Storm do differently? And was it just because they faced the worst team in the league? Was it just because they were playing at home?
Chris Mullin’s squad had struggled mightily on offense during their four game losing streak, lacking consistency on offense and committing too many turnovers down the stretch. The Johnnies improved their offense and limited their mistakes for a full 40 minutes.
They only committed 10 turnovers in their win, compared to 20 turnovers on Saturday in their loss to Villanova.
As a team, the Red Storm shot the basketball much better against DePaul than they did on Saturday, shooting 25-55 (45%) from the field, including an impressive 12-22 (55%) from behind the arc.
The Johnnies had no problem establishing the tempo from start to finish on Monday and despite a rough performance by starting point guard Marcus LoVett, stellar performances from Malik Ellison, Tariq Owens, and a late burst by Shamorie Ponds carried them to victory.
They played much better defensively, especially in holding DePaul’s shooters to just 5-14 (36%) from behind the arc. In their four-game losing streak, the Johnnies’ frontcourt was nonexistent on both sides of the court, especially on defense. Kassoum Yakwe and Tariq Owens were better on defense against DePaul, only allowing 6 points on second-chance opportunities.
One alarming concern the Johnnies still face is their inability to outrebound their opponents and defend in the paint. The Johnnies lost the rebound battle 37-31 and still gave up 28 points in the paint. Still, that number is far better than what St. John’s allowed against Georgetown and Xavier.
A look at fast break points, second chance points, and points in the paint over the last six games for St. John’s (click to make images bigger):
After starting Big East Conference play with two wins over #13 Butler and DePaul, the Johnnies had trouble putting points on the board in their last 4 games, losing to #10 Creighton, #16 Xavier, Georgetown, and #3 Villanova.
The fast break points came against DePaul, and in both games this weekend, St. John’s allowed fewer easy baskets, while maintaining the number of points scored in the paint and limiting second-chance opportunities - at least compared to their efforts earlier in the season.
Chris Mullin emphasized after their loss to Villanova that his team is “growing” and that consistency and efficiency for a full 40 minutes of basketball will continue to get better as their season progresses.
The Johnnies took a step in the right direction with the ten point win over DePaul, but the remaining games left on St. John’s schedule will be tougher then DePaul.
The Johnnies are capable of playing with the best in the Big East Conference if they can refrain from committing turnovers, reduce the number of points scored in the paint and shoot the basketball efficiently.
Most Red Storm fans understood that upsetting Villanova at Madison Square Garden was highly unlikely coming into Saturday and the same fans also felt that a win on Monday over DePaul was crucial, in order to gain some momentum into February.
But can St. John’s use this win over DePaul to build some momentum heading into February and March?
A win on Sunday against Seton Hall at the Prudential Center will certainly be a huge help for the Johnnies, proving they can take these improvements to teams NOT named DePaul - and to teams on the road.