St. John’s won their opener at Carnesecca Arena over the New Orleans Privateers 77-61 in a game that energized the crowd... but was also puzzling to long time St. John’s fans.
The game began slowly, with St. John’s applying full court pressure and successfully covering passing lanes in the paint. The Privateers got no easy shots but the Johnnies were also scoreless until Marcus LoVett drove to the basket to tie the game at the two minute mark.
Shortly thereafter New Orleans took a 4-2 lead, which would be their last lead of the game. The Red Storm took control with Justin Simon scoring four points on spectacular drives to the basket. The second drive, on a nice feed from Marvin Clark, put the Johnnies ahead 6-4 at the 16 minute mark.
Tariq Owens entered the game at 15:45 and immediately took a defensive rebound which led to a pretty alley-oop feed from Shamorie Ponds to Justin Simon. St John’s led 8 to 4.
The impressive passing was against a zone defense that occasionally stymied the Red Storm in the first half resulting in two 30 second violations. In contrast to these poor sets, most of the time the Johnnies moved the ball rapidly and effectively around the zone registering five assists on their first six field goals.
At the 13:25 mark Ponds hit the first of what would become an avalanche of successful three point shots; the Johnnies shot forty percent on three-point attempts for the game. After Ponds’ shot, the Johnnies led 11-6.
The Privateers scored four straight points to narrow the lead to one, but this small run was broken by a nice cross court pass from Kassoum Yakwe to Marcus LoVett for a three and a 14-10 lead at 11:58.
New Orleans kept the game close until Ponds drove into the paint and dished to Bashir Ahmed for a corner three. A St. John’s fan commented, “Penetration is everything” as St. John’s guards were successfully penetrating the New Orleans zone and finding the open man at three-point range.
At the 8:45 mark, Ahmed returned the favor driving to the hoop and hitting Ponds for an open three and a short time later Clark hit a corner three for a 23-16 lead.
Free throws were keeping New Orleans in the game; the Red Storm had committed nine personal fouls in the first half. Yet the Johnnies were running an effective fast break and their defense was effective - by either intercepting passes by stepping into passing lane, or by pressuring Privateer ballhandlers into careless mistakes. The Johnnies led at the half 37-28.
Fans were concerned despite the lead.
New Orleans was outrebounding the Johnnies by 16-9 with guard Shamorie Ponds the Red Storm’s top rebounder. The hope that the second line players would step forward was limited to the performance of Tariq Owens, giving the Johnnies only six players producing on the court.
By the four minute mark of the second half the Johnnies had extended the lead to thirteen points. Relevant statistics at this point of the game were:
1. St. John’s was shooting 52% on field goal attempts.
2. St. John’s was shooting 47% on three point attempts.
3. St. John’s had 11 assists to five for New Orleans.
4. St. John’s had eight steals to three for New Orleans.
However, New Orleans still had seven more rebounds than the Red Storm.
The Johnnies defense remained steady and the Privateers had few fast break opportunities as the Red Storm were hustling back after misses. Occasionally, full court pressure created sloppy play by the Privateers.
At the 11:55 mark Ponds hit an acrobatic drive resulting in a fourteen point lead and “Ooohs” from the crowd.
All seemed to be going well except the rebound margin which kept increasing in the Privateers favor. Too many times, multiple offensive rebounds by Privateers resulted in baskets after good defense caused missed field goal attempts. Privateer reserve Travin Thibodeaux was most effective on shots in the paint resulting in 18 points. He also led the Privateers with seven rebounds.
By the games end, St. John’s was outrebounded 42 -27 with reserves gathering in six rebounds, all by Tariq Owens, despite playing in 46 minutes of play. The hope for reserves, aside from Owens, to “step up” was not found in this game.
Three Takeaways from the Win
Prior to the start of the game a season ticket holder shared the belief, “I believe this is our year.”
When asked why, he explained: “we have the best backcourts in the Big East. If one of our backup front court players steps up, just one, we will be fine.” When asked for a prediction of the Johnnies record this year in the Big East, he replied 9-9. Two other season ticket holders shared an identical 10-8 prediction for the team.
The hope was still strong after the game, but came with questions.
Clark Presents Himself as an Offensive Force
Marvin Clark II scored 15 points on 5/6 shooting, including 2/2 on three point attempts. Clark also hit all three of his attempted free throws. Discovering an offensive force from the front court to support the back court scoring was a primary goal of the Red Storm this year.
The Backcourt Continues to Impress
The starting three-player backcourt, led by Marcus LoVett’s 23 points on 7/14 shooting (two for four) from three point range), totaled 43 points and moved the ball well. Shamorie Ponds had six assists and led the Johnnies with seven rebounds.
Pressure defense by the backcourt resulted in multiple turnovers by the Privateer guards. Justin Simon, in particular, was observed deflecting several passes that broke up Privateer drives, a statistic that does not show up on box scores.
Defense Gets a B+; Rebounding gets a D
First the positive. Good things happened on defense. Though there were not a lot of blocks, tight defense by the whole team, resulted in 21 New Orleans turnovers. Many of these turnovers came from stepping into passing lanes by frontcourt and backcourt players. With the exception of attempts off of offensive rebounds, there were few open shots by the Privateers.
New Orleans shot 39 percent for the game (29% on three point attempts).
Now the negative. The Johnnies were outrebounded by a team with no one over 6’9” by 15. This is troubling. Was it poor positioning on Privateer shots? Was it a lack of aggressiveness? Were Johnnies taking themselves out of rebounding position when attempting to block Privateer shots?
A win is a win and many good things happened in the opener. However, the poor rebounding, in particular, creates concern. The lack of impactful support from the bench against a team rated 279 on KenPom was a topic many fans were discussing as analysis of the game was shared.
The fact that Kassoum Yakwe and Amar Alibegovic got into early foul trouble may have inhibited their aggressiveness and a better performance from each should be anticipated. Brian Trimble made a long three and played tough defense in his 10 minutes of play shows some promise.
The Johnnies challenge Central Connecticut on November 14th with positives that overcome the concerns after their opening day victory.