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Three takeaways: Ponds’s skill, Yakwe, adjustment leads to St. John’s win over CCSU

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A fast-paced game and a 2nd half defensive adjustment leads 80-55 victory over Central Connecticut

Wendell Cruz

St. John’s fans were treated to a game of movement that rarely took a break in an 80 to 55 victory over the Central Connecticut Blue Devils.

First Half

Bashir Ahmed hit a there at the 19:15 mark and, shortly thereafter, Justin Simon put back a Marcus LoVett miss for a 5-0 lead, a far cry from the Johnnies first game when they struggled to score their first points until over two minutes into the game.

At the 15:47 timeout fans noted that the Blue Devils had four rebounds to one for the Johnnies and murmurs “here we go again” could be heard.

Tariq Owens (five rebounds in 20 minutes) entered the game and things began to change.

Simon tipped in a Ponds miss then pressured a driving Blue Devil, leading to a Ponds’ steal and a fast break basket with free throw. St. John’s led 14 to 11.

Shamorie Ponds drives vs CCSU
Wendell Cruz

At the 13 minute mark, Ponds drove to the basket and passed to an open Owens who nailed a fifteen footer from the left baseline. On the next Blue Devil possession, Marvin Clark drew a charging call. LoVett then assisted Ponds on a three from the right corner and St. John’s led 19 to 11.

A sequence of sloppy defense brought Central Connecticut back into the game and, at the 10:27 timeout, Justin Simon was observed taking the lead in a players’ huddle while the staff discussed strategy.

Kassoum Yakwe entered the game at the nine minute mark and a fan noted the following:

  • On their next offensive possession a Blue Devils drove to the basket. Yakwe rotated over to stop the drive and the Blue Devils had to reset and missed the subsequent field goal attempt.
  • At the 7:50 mark Yakwe blocked a Blue Devil pass low in the paint causing them to reset again and, as before, miss the subsequent shot. The observant fan concluded, “There are some positive plays which never make the box score.”
Kassoum Yakwe hustles and dives for the ball
Wendell Cruz

At the 7:12 mark, St. John’s had nine total rebounds to seven for the Blue Devils - in essence, an eight to three advantage over the past eight minutes as well as a 27-17 lead.

Brian Trimble entered the game and promptly hit a 22-footer from the corner for a 30-19 St. John’s lead. By the end of the half Trimble hit two more jumpers for eight points in seven minutes of play.

At the 3:03 mark, St. John’s led by 22, having turned the Blue Devils over 11 times to their own five turnovers. St. John’s led the rebounding battle 13 to eight.

At the half St. John’s led 43-27 as Simon and Ponds set the pace with ten points apiece.

Second Half

With 18:30 left, forward Marvin Clark II, with an open Marcus LoVett in the corner, chose to take the ball to the hoop and was called with charging, his fourth foul. He had to come out of the game and the game turned the Blue Devils’ way.

Relentlessly, the Blue Devils attacked the net on every offensive possession and St. John’s struggled to hold them back. The Johnnies’ sixteen point lead was reduced to eleven at the seventeen minute mark of the half. And though St. John’s had managed to stay out of foul trouble in the first half, the team accumulated seven fouls in the first six minutes of the second half.

LoVett, who did not score in the first half, began to assert himself in the second half, starting by feeding Bashir Ahmed early in the period (before Clark’s foul). Ahmed was fouled on a drive and hit one of two free throws.

Bashir Ahmed drives vs CCSU
Wendell Cruz

At the 15:50 mark LoVett hit a three from the corner, his first points of the game, then a three on the Red Storm’s subsequent possession.

Although outrebounding the Blue Devils 23 to 16 at the 11:41 mark, the Blue Devils were still in the game, trailing 58 to 46. Then Coach Mullin inserted a four guard lineup with Yakwe in to fortify the basket - which worked to make the rest of the game a cruise.

The Blue Devil penetration stopped and St. John’s went on a 15-0 run led by LoVett, having a hot hand, being found by his teammates for open jumpers. Yakwe continued to make coverage plays that do not make the scorecard and at the 4:59 mark St. John’s had pulled away to a 74-52 lead.

It should be noted that the revitalized Johnnies never stopped playing defense. With 28 seconds left and a 23 point lead, Owens hustled to the right corner to block a Blue Devil three-point shot. On the inbounds play Ahmed stole the ball and raced down the court with a dunk climaxing an 80-55 St. John’s victory.

Three Takeaways

Coach Mullin makes the correct call

Central Connecticut came out of halftime with a new strategy of attacking the glass on every offensive possession. The Johnnies seemed hopeless in their efforts to defend. While they kept top scorer Tyler Kohl (one point) from scoring, there was no answer to his teammates attacking the basket. It was a good strategy by the Blue Devils.

When Coach Mullin inserted his four guard offense at the 11:41 mark of the second half, fans were thinking it was done for offensive reasons. Yet, as the game progressed, it was the defense that was fortified.

The observations of the play of Kassoum Yakwe should be noted, as an example of the less noted responsibilities taken on by all defenders to turn games around.

No one outside of the program keeps statistics on defensive stops that turn easy shots into new sets and lead to more difficult shots by opponents yet these plays are important. Blocked shots are spectacular, but strong defensive plays are just as productive.

Boost from Trimble; lift from LoVett

Freshman Brian Trimble, Jr. demonstrated his value to the Johnnies with three baskets (eight points) in seven minutes of play at the end of the first half. Coupled with consistent, tough man to man defense, Trimble appears to be a valued newcomer off the bench for the Johnnies as they begin to play more competitive competition.

Bryan Trimble, Jr. shoots
Wendell Cruz

Marcus LoVett scored his first points of the game with fifteen minutes left in the second half, yet finished with 15 points and four assists. He shot 60 percent from both the field and the three point line, igniting the 15-0 run that put the game away in the second half.

Shamorie Ponds is more than just a scorer

Ponds came to St. John’s with a reputation as a scorer but his performance this season has demonstrated his overall play. He had four assists, three steals and nine rebounds to supplement his 21 points.

At the 9:50 mark of the second half, Ponds demonstrated his considerable skills. Kassoum Yakwe blocked a Blue Devil shot that came down near the foul line. Ponds picked the loose ball up and raced down the court with LoVett sprinting on his left flank. A Blue Devil defender challenged Ponds at the opposite foul line and Ponds responded with a behind the back pass to a streaking LoVett who calmly nailed the twenty foot jumper. Enough said.

Conclusion

A 2-0 record is a strong positive indicator, especially since St. John’s did not always respond in the past season to teams of the caliber of New Orleans and Central Connecticut.

The fact that the Johnnies won the rebounding battle 38 to 29 is also noteworthy. Their response on the defensive end to defensive adjustments made by Coach Mullin midway through the second half is also promising.

In one day, the Gavitt Games bring the challenge of Nebraska to Carnesecca Aren. The Big Ten’s Cornhuskers come to Carnesecca Arena with a 2-0 record. They have six players with heights ranging from 6’8” to 6’11” including Isaac Copeland, whom the Johnnies have faced when he was on the Georgetown roster in past years.

The rebounding edge demonstrated against Central Connecticut will be challenged when facing an experienced and taller Cornhusker team. Hopefully the play-making skills of the Johnnies, coupled with a determined battle on the boards and inspired defense will continue the winning ways of the team this season.