Final score: 94-72
The stands were filled to the brim, St. John’s Red Storm fans who were hoping that a strong non-conference record of 10-2 would mean a strong start against the Providence Friars at home. The Friars had some some struggles, and this was a game the Johnnies wanted for a good start to Big East play with two ranked teams to come.
Those excited fans who came in early got to observe the warmups before the game. Those fans noted that while St. John’s guards were inconsistent from out deep, Friars Alpha Diallo and Kyron Cartwright were smoothly consistent.
No evidence was seen that the previous injuries to either of the Friar players would impact their performance in the game to come.
Half of the 5,602 present were wearing “White Out” tee shirts distributed before the game.
First Half: 41-40 Providence
The Johnnies started the game aggressively hitting the offensive boards. Three-pointers by Shamorie Ponds and then Marvin Clark led the Johnnies to an 8-2 lead three minutes into the game.
It did not take long for Providence to respond. A 6-0 run by the Friars tied the score at the 15:44 mark. More significant were the two fouls assessed to Tariq Owens which led to his removal from the game for the remainder of the half.
St. John’s pulled ahead 16-12 after a Bashir Ahmed offensive rebound and a Shamorie Ponds steal and layup. A loud “defense … defense” could be heard from the two student sections in the stands, seeing the Red Storm start to lock in.
Kassoum Yakwe had a productive first half, playing the high post. He hit a jumper from the foul line then later aggressively attacked the basket on a drive down the left side of the lane, getting fouled. Yakwe was also active on offensive and defensive boards and fans were recalling his productive freshman year for the Johnnies.
The lead changed hands several times during the first half as both teams appeared evenly matched. Providence was led by the shooting of wing Jalen Lindsey who hit four three-pointers in the half, many times unguarded by Red Storm defenders.
With 4:12 to go in the half the Johnnies led 32-26 after a remarkable drive by Ponds through three Friar defenders for a layup. The Red Storm looked like they had started to lock in.
A lead diminished quickly, and Providence led 41-40 with under a minute to play. A nice drive by Yakwe on the right side of the lane appeared to put the Johnnies back in front but he was called for an offensive foul. The half ended with Providence leading by a point.
Ponds had a splendid first half, scoring 14 points and dishing out several assists. Many were off of drives to the basket. As Friar defenders collapsed to help out, he passed out to teammates for open three pointers. Ahmed chipped in ten points and Clark added eight.
In the first half, St. John’s outrebounded Providence by a 21 to 15 margin but uncharacteristically had committed three more turnovers than the Friars. But fans knew the Red Storm would lock in, as they had all season in the second half.
St. John’s hit 39% of their three point attempts, a healthy percentage while holding Providence to 36%.
Second Half: 53-32 Providence
The second half began much like the first, with the teams swapping the lead back and forth. A Clark assist to Owens led to an Owens layup and put the Johnnies in front 44-43 at the 18:28 mark.
It was their last lead.
The Red Storm took a time out at the 14:22 mark and Tariq Owens appeared to be demonstrably urging on his teammates to intensify their efforts. Owens followed the time out a with a dunk and the Friar lead was cut to five.
At the 12:11 mark of the second half the game was within reach after an Ahmed jumper brought the Johnnies within eight at 65-57.
Then, over the next four and a half minutes the Johnnies missed eight consecutive shots. Most were good shots, three open three point attempts and the rest within eleven feet of the basket.
While the Johnnies were missing, the Friars were breaking out against a now weary St. John’s first team. Kyron Cartwright and Alpha Diallo were hitting long range shots at will, particularly Cartwright, many from twenty five feet away.
With 7:35 left in the half and a nineteen point deficit, Coach Chris Mullin removed Ponds, Owens and Ahmed replacing them with Amar Alibegovic, Kassoum Yakwe and Bryan Trimble. With only eight players in the rotation the lack of depth became quite apparent. There were only walk-on teammates left.
St. John’s went into a zone defense which seemed to temporarily stymie the Friars. Four straight points by Alibegovic cut the lead to fifteen and once again chants of “defense … defense” were heard.
However, Providence still had four more threes to make and, despite the heroics of Marvin Clark who led the Red Storm with 20 points, the Friars extended their lead to a final score of 94-72.
Tired players? The Friars had a one-point lead at the half. Although the Friars had scored 41 points, there were moments when the Johnnies were holding the Friars to taking their first field goal attempt late in the shot clock. They made some steals and scoring off the opportunities.
At the 12:11 mark of the second half the lead was eight, well within reach of a comeback. But the Red Storm seemed spent.
Tired players often miss shots they would make when fresh. Depth is a problem, particularly at the guard position where Ponds and Simon carry a high workload.
The return of a healthy Marcus LoVett should pay dividends on both offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
In addition Amar Alibegovic, though missing several three point attempts, gave an adequate backup performance when he entered the game. If Alibegovic can give the Red Storm five minutes per game off the bench of support, it may give the first teamers the adequate refresher time to re-enterer the game fresh.
Fans could consider the performance of the Johnnies in the first half, while they were fresh, as indicative of their true talent. It also needs to be noted that this was a talented Friar team that found its rhythm tonight.
The offense - beating the zone
In the first half, the Johnnies hit 39% of their three-point attempts and 47% of their field goals. By games end these percentages dropped to 44% of their field goals for the game and, more significantly, to 25% of three-point attempts (0/10 from the three in second half).
Tired legs can lead to misses on such shots. And the issue that Shamorie Ponds may have injured himself towards the end of the first half may have added to his ineffective second half.
St. John’s did have some answers for the zone when they were patient.
The Johnnies were able to feed the ball into the key. Various Johnnies were recipients of these entry passes. Kassoum Yakwe, in the first half, seemed to make the most of these plays, hitting a jumper then driving to the basket on several occasions.
On other occasions, Justin Simon was the recipient, but was less successful with his shot.
Earlier in the season Bashir Ahmed and even Shamorie Ponds, on one occasion, played this position against the zone. Ahmed, in particular, seems to have a skill set that could thrive in this position.
Defense misses LoVett
A combination of a lack of depth and a stalled offense led to the breaking open of the game in the middle of the second half.
At the 7:30 mark, with reserves in the game, the Red Storm went into a zone defense that seemed to confuse the Friars. The Johnnies thrive on in-your-face man to man pressure and help defense. Dropping into a zone for a couple of series may assist in disorienting game plans of opponents.
At the beginning of the second half, the Friars ran many more set plays than the Johnnies, plays that freed the shooters on their team for easy three point attempts. Mixing in a zone defense, perhaps randomly, may create a diversity for opponents to plan against.
Missing Marcus LoVett is very significant as the pressure he places on the opponent’s point guard keeps the opponent from establishing a flow to their offense. His return - at full strength - is most anticipated by the Johnnies. A Marcus LoVett at ninety percent will provide offensive scoring power but a one hundred percent LoVett is needed to provide effective defensive pressure.
When leaving the arena, several fans were banking their hopes for future success on a return of Marcus Lovett. It is important to remember that the game was evenly played for a half and was still competitive for half of the second half.
The performance to this point of the game is most indicative of the Johnnies’ potential, thought they also need to compete in the second half and be at full strength.
The impact of a reported injury to Shamorie Ponds also must be considered. Hopefully both guards will be available come the 12/31/17 game at Seton Hall.
The schedule does not get easier but it should be noted that the team, even when worn down and behind, never quit last night. We fans need to continue to believe.