St. John’s defeated the Molloy Lions, 71-43, in a game that was a bit closer than it should have been, against an exhibition-quality opponent.
For friends of St. John’s University the highlight of the first half may very well have been the powerful and moving rendition of the national anthem by graduate student, whose last name was Hart (we think that was his name?).
For the men’s basketball team there was lots of movement, but also careless play in the first half; and the game that could have been powerful statement and warm up against the Division II Molloy Lions was clearly missing.
The game began positively for the Red Storm: a Justin Simon steal, deflected to a diving Marcus LoVett.
On his back LoVett flipped a pass over his head to Simon who laid the ball in for a 2-0 St. John’s lead. After Molloy took a 5-2 lead the Red Storm attacked their man-to-man defense with crisp passing. But at times, there appeared to be too many passes, and it would take almost three minutes for the Johnnies to score again on a driving layup by LoVett.
At the 14:48 mark of the half Molloy led 7-4 despite St. Johns registering four steals. Their problem was that, along with the steals, came 25 percent shooting and zero percent from three point land. Molloy also was outrebounding the Johnnies 8-3 and no one on St. John’s was attacking the offensive glass.
An unsuccessful, high stepping drive to the basket brought out calls of “stop the showboating” from the crowd of season ticket holders. After an open layup was passed up for a spectacular pass attempt that went awry, a long time ticket holder, admonished the Johnnies, “I hope you learned a lesson from that. Keep it simple.”
The Red Storm eventually took a 9-7 lead at the 13:50 mark on a three-pointer by Brian Trimble, Jr.
However, the defense seemed more interested in making steals than in giving the consistent, high pressure defense so much a part of the recent victory over Nebraska. The Lions were getting open threes in the corner. A longtime supporter lamented, “this isn’t the way it was supposed to go.” Things would get more edgy.
Molloy went on a 6-0 run to take a 16-11 lead. It was little-used forward Amar Alibegovic who broke the run with a drive from the top of the key to cut the lead to 16-13.
At the 8:10 mark Shamorie Ponds hit two free throws and the lead was down to one. Tight defense by the Red Storm caused Molloy to take a desperation 25-foot jump shot as the 30 second clock was about to expire but the Red Storm could not capitalize.
And at the 6:37 time out Molloy still led 16-15. They were outshooting the Johnnies 37% to 24% and had outrebounded the Johnnies by one. The Red Storm remained in the game by turning the Lions over seven times.
St. John’s went on a 6-0 run, which began with a Marvin Clark II drive from the right corner. Shamorie Ponds completed the run with a driving layup and the St. Johns’ student section behind the basket erupted with “defense ... defense”. The students seemed particularly energized this evening, an energy that they eventually passed on to the players with their calls for defense.
Tariq Owens began hitting the offensive boards and two scores by Bashir Ahmed extended the lead to 24-18. Simon then joined Owens on the offensive glass, scoring on a rebound for a 28-21 halftime lead.
St. John’s fans were anxiously anticipating a recharged and refocused Red Storm squad in the second half.
They were not disappointed.
On defense, the Johnnies imposed a full court press after every made Red Storm basket. The goal of the press was not so much to steal the ball as it was to take time off each offensive set by the Lions.
It worked. Lion ball handlers were taking between eight to eleven seconds to get across midcourt and begin setting up their offense.
On offense, the Johnnies opened with Marcus LoVett and Bashir Ahmed bringing the ball up and Shamorie Ponds setting up on the left wing. On their first offensive set in the half a couple of Red Storm passes left Ponds free for a much needed three pointer from the wing and a 31-21 lead. The basket began a 30-6 run that would last for the next eleven minutes.
During the run, at about the 14:00 mark, Marvin Clark II made two consecutive plays that demonstrated what he brings to the offense.
On the first, he drove across the paint from the right wing and laid the ball in with a short hook shot. On the second, he received the ball deep in the paint, faked the same move then spun left for a baseline drive, two points and a foul shot, which he made. Five points in about 40 seconds of work.
At 12:40 a Ponds deflection led to a Clark steal. Clark fed to Ahmed for a dunk and a 50-23 Red Storm lead. It was a pretty play demonstrating the teamwork so evident in previous games. The student section loved it and “defense ... defense” emanated from behind the basket.
In the last nine minutes Amar Alibegovic and Kassoum Yakwe saw considerable playing time. Teammates focused on feeding them under the basket and both responded, particularly Alibegovic, who scored nine points on four of six shooting. On one spin move by Yakwe on which his shot rimmed the cylinder unsuccessfully, a fan encouragingly called out, “good move Kassoum … we need your offense.”
Walk-ons Justin Cole and Jason Camus entered the game in the waning minutes and fans cheered even on their shots that went awry.
At the games end a season ticket owner commented, “after this performance I see we are not ready for Duke.” It was quite a contrast to enthusiastic Red Storm fans after the Nebraska game calling out “bring on the Blue Devils”.
One fan commented’ “Justin Simon is the real deal.”
Three season ticket holders, when asked who the standout player of the game, all responded … Justin Simon. Doing his best Kris Dunn imitation, Simon had 7 points, 9 assists and 11 rebounds, attacking on powerful drives to the rim.
Two plays stood out in fan’s minds. The first was a thirty foot pass between two Molloy defenders to a streaking Shamorie Ponds late in the first half resulting in a Ponds layup.
The second was a perfect pass to a cutting Amar Alibegovic with four minutes left in the second half that resulted in a reverse layup. One fan summarized, “Simon makes everyone around him better.”
When the defense is focused...
The Johnnies played superb defense throughout the Nebraska game and in the second half of the victory over the Molloy Lions. What made the difference in this game?
In the second half the Johnnies pressured the Lions after every made basket. Frequently, Molloy was just starting their offensive sets with twenty seconds or less on the thirty second clock. Although there were few 30-second violations called, there were many rushed shots by the Lions as time was expiring.
St. John’s defenders also stayed with their man and controlled the boards in the second half. This not only eliminated second chance shots by Molloy, but ignited what became an under control Red Storm fast break in the second half.
Don’t forget the offensive boards
Fans noted that during the first half several Johnnies were retreating on defense as shots were going up, even on three point attempts. The team was shooting poorly. Even on a day when the team is shooting well, it is likely that the team will miss fifty percent of their three-point attempts. Why were the Johnnies retreating when attacking the offensive glass for rebounds was called for?
After the game some Red Storm players admitted that they were too relaxed at the start of the game. Nowhere was this more evident than in the lack of offensive glass rebounding effort.
The St. John’s student body was energized often, initiating the calls for “Defense …defense” as the team struggled in the first half. Fans, young and old, were energized by the students and, eventually, so were the Johnnies.
Something can be learned from every game played. The Johnnies are not as young or as inexperienced as a year ago but there was something new learned from the Molloy game. It was a simple lesson: every game, even against a division two team, is a challenge. Every play demands focus and effort.
The schedule ahead is increasingly challenging and a focused, forty minute effort will be required. On to Orlando. Go Johnnies … defense … defense.