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Takeaways: sweet revenge over Georgetown as Mussini leads the way

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St. John’s guards create an alternate universe of speed?

Mussini drives around Jessie Govan
Wendell Cruz

A look back at the hard-fought 86-80 St. John’s Red Storm win over Georgetown...

Winning the opening tip, Georgetown brought the ball up and eighteen seconds into the game, fed 6 foot 6 inch L.J. Peak under the basket as he was posting up 6’0” Marcus LoVett for an easy turnaround jumper. Too easy, St. John’s fans feared.

Over the next four minutes the Hoyas held the lead despite turning the ball over six times; St. John’s only hit three out of nine shots in that period.

But shortly after the fifteen minute T.V. timeout, Tariq Owens stole the ball and drove down the court for a slam dunk and the first St. John’s lead at 8 to 7. The crowd exploded as fans rose to their feet.

It was the St. John’s team quickness which kept St. John’s in the game despite shooting poorly early on. Shamorie Ponds began a special night, one which saw him pass the 500-point mark for his freshman season, with a 10-footer and a nice six-foot floater from the right baseline at the 16:18 mark. Ponds ended the game with 24 points.

Georgetown regained a three point lead by managing to get the ball inside to their big men, leading to easy baskets.

The game’s dynamic changed with the insertion of Federico Mussini; he quickly buried two three-pointers, followed by a pair of free throws igniting a 17-0 first half run. At the 8:20 mark of the first half, Georgetown had scored 13 points while having committed 13 turnovers. St. John’s led 24 to 13. The crowd began to envision another Syracuse-like blowout.

A 14 year old observed, “St. Johns defense is really aggressive, too many steals to count. Now the high-paced offense has caught fire. Mussini has a great shot.”

But.

Once again the dynamic changed as Georgetown managed to get the ball inside to their big men, leading to baskets for the taller Hoyas. When St. John’s shaded inside to assist in defending the Hoya size, the Hoyas took advantage, riding LJ Peak (20 points) and Rodney Pryor (22 points - including three three-pointers in the Georgetown run). The 17-0 run by St. John’s was matched by a 17-0 Hoya run. And even with a three by Ponds at the 25-second mark of the half, Georgetown led 36-35.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at St. John
LJ Peak drives past Darien Williams for the layup
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

One significant sequence occurred in the last minute of the half. At the 1:13 mark Kassoum Yakwe, playing strong defense, took a charge from Georgetown star L.J. Peak and nineteen seconds later Peak fouled Ponds on a drive to the basket for his third foul. He was removed and had to deal foul trouble for the remainder of the game.

Half time Comments: alternate worlds? Stranger Things?

During the half a Knicks fan, seeing his first St. John’s game commented, “The court appears smaller than the one used by NBA teams and the time played seemed oddly compressed, or so it appeared from someone who has only watched NBA games. It may be because the pro games tend to be methodical while the speed of the St. John’s guards leaves me sensing a whole different space time continuum.”

A “different space-time continuum” may describe the St. John’s team this year that goes on a 17-0 run to take a 14 point lead only to give into a 17 point run by Georgetown a few minutes later.

Second Half

St John’s got off to a quick start in the second half. Bashir Ahmed, who had only two points in the first half, hit a jump shot and Ponds drove to the basket from the left of the key, then under the basket and laid the ball in with his right hand, a pretty move.

Malik Ellison followed with a layup and St. John’s was playing smart basketball, taking high percentage shots.

Georgetown kept the game close until the 15:12 mark when LoVett made a great pass to Ahmed, who, with his feet set, drilled a three-pointer for a 48-41 lead. However, the Hoyas countered with a six point run and at the 13:38 point of the half, the Red Storm held a one point lead. The crowd was getting nervous.

Ahmed then grabbed two consecutive offensive rebounds, out battling the taller Hoya front court. After the second, he fed Ponds for a fifteen foot jump shot and chants of “Defense … defense” could be heard throughout the Garden. St. John’s led 50 to 47.

At 12:59 Ahmed drove to the hoop and was fouled by L.J. Peak, arguably the best player for the Hoyas. Peak had to come out with four fouls. A 37-year season ticket holder commented, “St Johns has got to take advantage now that Peak has four fouls.” Ahmed hit the two free throws and St. John’s led by five.

Georgetown closed the game to 52 to 51 when, at 11:18, Mussini drove to the basket and dished off to Owens for a dunk and a three point lead. The lead remained between one and three points until Mussini hit a three on a nice assist from LoVett at the 7:11 mark. St. John’s was up 63-59.

At 5:53, Ponds hit a three for his twentieth point of the game. St. John’s was up by six. The lead went to nine with 2:25 in the half when Amar Alibegovic stole a pass and dribbled the entire court ending with a dunk. The crowd went wild and the St. John’s bench erupted.

Amar Alibegovic dunk vs. Georgetown
Wendell Cruz

However, the game was not over. Georgetown crept back to within one with 1:20 left after a driving basket and foul shot by Rodney Prior. Then it was a foul shot contest and Ponds, LoVett and Ellison went 10 for 10 in the last 1:40 to seal a hard fought 86 to 80 victory.

Three Takeaways

Ponds, LoVett, Mussini

Shamorie Ponds passed the 500 points mark for his freshman year with three games (and hopefully more) to be played. Marcus LoVett had his second straight overall good game with eleven points, four assists and two steals and, for the second time in three games, Federico Mussini excelled off the bench with 16 points and two steals.

When Mussini is shooting like he did against Georgetown (five for six, three of four from three point land), St. John’s guards complement each other very effectively.

Foul shooting/ turnovers

St. Johns hit on 80.6% of their foul shots taken. Most impressive was the ten for ten shooting in the last 1:40, when the game was on the line. Being able to shoot foul shots at this high percentage takes away a weapon teams may try to exploit at the end of games.

Equally impressive were the number of turnovers inflicted upon Georgetown. Of the Hoya’s 26 turnovers, eleven were steals by St. John’s players and several turnover were clearly the result of good defensive pressure. One impressive example was a block by Malik Ellison of Georgetown’s Jonathan Mulmore. Ellison came ten feet across the key to make the block of Mulmore’s layup which resulted in a 24 second violation by the Hoyas.

In contrast to the Hoyas’ sloppy play, St. John’s had only nine turnovers for the game.

The front line

Once again there were concerns, magnified by Tariq Owens ankle injury midway through the second half. The good news is that St. John’s hung in there even after their best frontline player went down, getting helpful minutes from reserves Amar Alibegovic and Darien Williams.

The most impressive stat line of the front court was Williams taking down six rebounds in just 15 minutes of play. Alibegovic played strong defense in the second half and blocked two Hoya shots. However, the entire front court only scored 13 points for the game.

Looking Forward

With two games to play much is on the line for the Red Storm. A win over the Providence Friars at Madison Square Garden would place St. John’s most likely in the seventh position in the league going into the Big East Tournament. This will take an outstanding performance as the Friars have been hot, defeating some of the higher ranked teams in the Big East during a four game winning streak.

An additional win at Creighton on February 28th would give the team a chance to avoid the first day of play as one of the top six seeds. Beating Creighton on their home court will be most challenging as the Johnnies will have to face freshman 7-footer Justin Patton, who scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first game with Creighton on January 4, 2017.

With Owens likely to be out for this game Williams, Alibegovic and Yakwe will have to stand tall against this outstanding freshman and his talented teammates..

St. John’s has demonstrated the ability to play with anyone in the Big East. The team must find a way to get off to a fast start, particularly when playing away from home, where they are building a home court advantage feel.