A look back from the stands at Mohegan Sun, where St. John’s needed a late spurt to hold off Saint Joseph’s, 77-73...
At the beginning of the game, the Mohegan Sun arena, capacity 10,000 for the doubleheader, was about ten percent filled. St. John’s had the first game, and fellow Big East squad Providence would face Houston in the second game. The colorful but empty blue and brown seats waited for a St. John’s or Saint Joseph’s fan to fill them.
A few yards away from the arena were gaming tables and slot machines, which made a periodic exodus and return tempting should the game turn into a slow, unproductive performance for either team.
Along with the sparse crowd, the arena missed the energy provided by the student band and cheerleaders. Nevertheless, both the Red Storm and the Hawks were ready to play.
And to end the perimeter futility from the previous game, for the Johnnies. The 0 for 12 streak on three-pointers from the win over Iona ended as, on the Johnnies first possession, Justin Simon drove the right side of the key and kicked a pass to Marvin Clark who hit a three for an early St. Johns lead.
Both teams were hot at the beginning of the game, with the Hawks moving the ball quickly and slashing towards the Johnnies’ basket when the opportunity arrived. One consequence of the Hawks’ attack was Marvin Clark picking up two early fouls, forcing him to leave the game at the 16-minute mark.
Freshman Bryan Trimble Jr. replaced him and logged about thirteen minutes of play in the first half, playing good defense and hitting a three at the nine minute mark to bring the Johnnies within one of the Hawks. (It would be his only made three of the afternoon.)
Defensive pressure so evident in the Iona game was less effective. At the 11:46 mark of the half, the Hawks led 22-16 and, if they kept the pace, would finish scoring in triple digits.
The defense did tighten and the slashing to the rim by the Hawks so prevalent at the beginning of the half disappeared. The Hawks became a three-point shooting team, and Taylor Funk, who hit five threes, was particularly effective. Leading scorer Shaver Newkirk began finding his range.
On the Johnnies’ side Shamorie Ponds (16 points in the first half) and Bashir Ahmed (8 points in the half) led the way.
At the 3:50 mark the Hawks led 39-38 but did not score again until Newkirk hit a basket as the buzzer sounded. With 42 seconds left in the half, Ponds drove to the basket and was fouled.
Protests of the call resulted in St. Joseph’s being hit with a technical and Ponds hit three of four free throws for a 44-39 lead.
The most notable statistics of the half:
- the 23 to 17 edge in rebounding which Saint Joseph’s had, leading to the Hawks making five more field goal attempts than the Johnnies.
- St. John’s had four blocked shots to none for their opponent;
- The Red Storm had four steals for one for the Hawks.
A St. Joseph’s fan shared that the team was struggling this season due to injuries but he felt that they were playing better than average; the second half would show how much better.
Just prior to the beginning of the half fans observed an intense players’ huddle with Tariq Owens appearing to lead the way.
Expectations were high that the Johnnies would, as has often happened this season, intensify their focus, particularly on defense.
This expectation was rewarded early in the second half as Ponds drove the left side then dished to Owens for a baseline 12 footer and a 46-41 lead. This play is becoming commonplace for the Red Storm and Owens has hit a high percentage of these shots throughout the last half dozen games.
It was a good start to the second half... but fans noticed that the Johnnies were not hitting the offensive boards at all. A shot would go up and teammates were quickly backpedaling on defense.
Over the next three minutes, shots were missed and the Hawks were not only rebounding with ease but quickly moving the ball into the forecourt with little resistance. At the 16:28 mark, an 8-0 run put them in the lead 49-46 and St. John’s called timeout.
The stands were now filling up and there was a restlessness among Red Storm fans who were taking out their frustrations on the referees for some questionable calls. What was missing was the call for “defense … defense” so often heard at Carnesecca Arena, initiated by the student section, seated behind the two backboards. With students home on mid-semester break, and the location in Connecticut, the stands were not as alive as usual even though this was a game that called for fan participation.
At 14:23 Kassoum Yakwe entered the game. Saint Joseph’s led 56-48 and had switched back to their zone defense.
A Simon rebound of a missed Saint Joseph’s shot led to an outlet pass to Ponds who drove the court for a layup. On the next Hawks possession, Yakwe blocked a shot and Ahmed broke down the court. He took an open three and missed but subsequent good defense by St. John’s kept the Red Storm in the game.
At 9:17, Ponds intercepted a Saint Joseph’s pass and drove the court for two, reducing the Hawk lead to three points.
After a basket by the Hawks, Clark hit a three to bring the Red Storm to a two point deficit.
Solid pressure defense by St. John’s led to a backcourt turnover and, on the next possession, Simon drove the right baseline, under the basket and hit a reverse hook shot to tie the score at 61 all.
It was at the 4:40 mark that Yakwe hit a short turnaround to put the Johnnies ahead 70-68.
The score remained close into the final minute of play and fans noted that this was the first time this season that a St. John’s game was on the line in the last minute of play.
Saint Joseph’s called three timeouts in the final two minutes to set strategies, but the Hawks could only come within two; Johnnies prevailed, 77-73, and Shamorie Ponds won an MVP of the game award.
Rebounding: The Johnnies were outrebounded 48 to 36. This is a concern but it should be noted that several of the Hawks’ rebounds were a result of a multitude of long three point attempts, which they were taking after the Red Storm defense tightened in the middle of the first half. Misses off long three-pointers often result in the ball caroming ten to fifteen feet from the basket, giving the Hawk offensive players an advantage on some of the rebounds.
A second factor in this rebound margin was the period of several minutes, particularly in the beginning of the second half, when the Johnnies simply were not attacking the offensive glass.
The rebound margin of seven at the end of the first half swelled to double digits but, after the team’s timeout around the 15-minute mark, the Johnnies became more aggressive on the offensive end and rebounding was even for the remainder of the contest.
Free Throw Shooting: The Red Storm had been shooting better than 75% this year, but against Saint Joseph’s the percentage was 64%. In close contests like this one, hitting free throws becomes crucial. Bashir Ahmed missed two, while Ponds, who was shooting at an 87% clip, missed three and Simon missed five.
Attacking the Zone: Once again, the Red Storm had little problem attacking the St. Joseph zone defense. Coach Martelli of Saint Joseph’s switched back and forth between the zone and a man to man throughout the game. Both Simon, Ahmed and Ponds seemed able to penetrate the zone with ease. The penetration and subsequent kickout to the corner for open jumpers by Owens and Clark seemed particularly effective.
However, the three point shooting, so effective against a zone defense, was still inconsistent with many airballs, particularly at the beginning of the game.
Hitting 32% of attempts is certainly better than the zero percent against Iona - but probably needs to be improved with the Big East competition beginning next week. The return of Marcus LoVett, who was hitting threes at 38%, should help.
The Johnnies’ next game is against the Providence Friars, who lost the second game of the Holiday Showcase to Houston.
A Friar fan stated that the team is struggling, given two significant injuries. Emmitt Holt is out for the year and point guard Kyron Cartwright has missed several games with an injury.
The team is run by a freshman point guard, who distributes the ball well but does not appear to be an offensive threat. If Cartwright remains out, the burden in the offensive end will be on Rodney Bullock, who took 42% of the teams shots against Houston, scoring 24 points.
The Friars had to abandon their zone at times as Houston was able to penetrate it and kick out for open threes. Although outrebounded by the Cougars, the Friars hit the offensive boards with two front court players on every shot.
If St. John’s can hold its own in rebounding and play its usual pressure defense, it has a good chance of coming away with a victory in the Big East opener.