Blood, sweat and, perhaps, many tears for the Red Storm after a competitive and sloppy game with the Georgetown Hoyas. “It was a battle of wills,” one fan stated - but neither team won the battle.
It came down to a three-pointer in the last thirty seconds of the ugly game. It came down to execution issues, depth and confidence.
In pre-game introductions Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing received a warm ovation from an almost filled Madison Square Garden.
A Georgetown fan leaned over to tell us that Ewing’s coaching style had added energy to the Hoya program, adding, “he has the team attacking the basket around the low post,” but that the team had an Achilles’ heel, “turnovers”.
The energy and the heel were on display all evening.
Justin Simon opened the scoring for St. John’s with a driving layup at the 19:30 mark for a 2-0 lead. Georgetown opened by feeding the post, where Jessie Govan or Marcus Dickerson would be a threat in the low post. As the game progressed, the Red Storm learned that these Hoyas were also proficient hitting jump shots well away from the basket.
The Red Storm, in contrast, opened with an aggressive weave that freed a Johnnie for a drive towards the basket. As Hoyas collapsed inside, passes to wings in the corner could often be made.
It was a strategy that worked in past games, but not tonight as Marvin Clark, Tariq Owens and Bashir Ahmed were cold from the perimeter. At the beginning of the game the cold shooting Johnnies were met with an aggressive effort on the offensive boards by the Hoyas. At the 15 minute mark the Hoyas led 11-6.
In the next two minutes Shamorie Ponds asserted himself, first driving the left side and dishing off to Tariq Owens for a five footer on the right baseline. Twenty seconds later, Ponds was fouled on a jumper and converted his free throws. St. John’s led 12-11.
St. John’s dropped into a zone defense and showed quick lateral movement. It disrupted the Hoyas for a couple of series. At the 11:46 mark the Hoyas had committed 4 turnovers while the Red Storm did not have one. But the Red Storm could not capitalize on the mistakes and the game remained close.
Bryan Trimble Jr., Kassoum Yakwe and Ponds contributed with three pointers (Trimble), foul shots (Yakwe) and a corner fadeaway (Ponds). “Defense … defense” rang out in response.
At 5:30, Marvin Clark hit two free throws and the Johnnies were ahead 26-21. It appeared that they would end the half with a small lead. However, another offensive rebound by the Hoyas at the waning seconds of the half led to a Dickerson layup and a 31-31 tie at the half.
In the first half the Johnnies shot an anemic 14.3% from three-point territory despite the shooting of Trimble, who was 2 for 2 on three-pointers. They also lost the rebound battle on the St. John’s side, with the Johnnies grabbing 12 defensive rebounds ans the Hoyas taking 13 offensive boards - giving the Hoyas more scoring opportunities.
What kept St. John’s in the game was their pressure defense, registering seven steals to the Hoyas one and six blocked shots to none for the Hoyas - reducing scoring oppoetunities.
Second Half: A fast break pass from Ponds to Owens, after a three-pointer taken by Jessie Govan 12 seconds into the half, resulted in a layup and a 33-31 lead to start the half. However, Georgetown continued with their tight defense and rebounding prowess.
At the 15:50, two successive offensive rebounds by the Hoyas resulted in a pass out to Jahvon Blair, who hit a rare successful three for either team and a 41-37 Hoya lead. Both teams then went into a prolonged slump with no scoring for the next four minutes. The Red Storm were effectively double teaming Govan, who struggled to make outlet passes.
The Georgetown defense was equally intense and, in trying to attack the pressure, Johnnie guards were unexpectedly turning the ball over. Halfway through the half Ponds spirted towards the basket and was tripped by the Hoya defender. He got up but was limping and had to be removed from the game. He did return but missed several minutes of play.
With Ponds out, the Red Storm offense struggled as much or more, but their aggressiveness kept the game close. With under eight minutes to play, Trey Dickerson hit a three from the top of the key for a 47-42 lead. The Johnnies called a timeout.
During the timeout the St. John’s Dance Team put on a riveting performance that drew the loudest ovation of the night. The crowd stood as the performance concluded.
With 3:47 left to play Georgetown had taken down 19 offensive rebounds to 8 for the Johnnies and led 57-53. Ponds then drove right for two, stole the ball and fed Simon for a layup. The score was tied 57-57.
In the following three minutes the Hoyas surged ahead only to be met by a Red Storm surge. With 54 seconds to play, the score was tied.
The Red Storm applied pressure on the Hoyas offense and almost caused a turnover, but, with 28 seconds to play (4 seconds on the play clock) Jesse Govan hit a 27 footer for a three point lead. The Red Storm reduced it to one on a Simon dunk but time ran out on their efforts to catch up.
The almosts became too much.
Fans could see the “battles” taking place on the floor - the physical fighting through cuts, the aggressive body-to-body defense - and the officials chose to let them occur. The Johnnies fought back in the run of the game play, but when it came to inbounds passing, St. John’s lost that battle handily.
The Red Storm pressure defense caused havoc among the Hoyas and many turnovers resulted. However, when the Hoyas received a ball out of bounds with two, three or four seconds to shoot, they ran physical plays to free the shooter and convert.
In contrast, the Johnnies would attempt to set a screen to free a teammate for a drive to the basket, but would be stymied, leaving the team to make a deep pass towards mid-court and start their set over, at times, with little left on the shot clock.
Is that a question of scheme? Or a question of personnel? Or a question of depth?
Confidence is in the subway
Missed layups and missed three pointers (some which were not even close, like Bashir Ahmed’s airball on a night where he was recovering from a 102 degree fever) seemed to impact the confidence of several players, leaving them tentative and passing up open opportunities to score.
When times were getting tough, the Johnnies had five players on the floor but only Ponds and Simon were actively looking for shots. Young basketball players can become tentative and coaches need to, during timeouts, attempt to address this lack of confidence. Sitting out for a few minutes can recharge a struggling player.
A soft bench makes the juggling of players more difficult.
In the first half the staff did a good job getting contributions from everyone, even if it was simply passing, setting screens and playing defense.
When Ponds went down for several minutes in the second half, the opportunity to effectively reset the lineup was significantly affected.
Those few minutes took a close game and widened the Hoya lead just enough for them to hold on at the end.
The team has been waiting for Bryan Trimble, Jr. to demonstrate his three-point scoring ability. He did so tonight converting on three of his four attempts.
Might this be day one of a surge of offensive contributions from the freshman guard? With the return of Marcus LoVett still in question, the Johnnies need a contribution from Trimble.
The coaching staff felt confidence in him keeping him on the court for 25 minutes. He responded by hitting three of four three pointers, playing decent defense and corralling four rebounds.
What can he do on the floor, and can he do it consistently?
The team has both strengths and flaws and, with a light bench, there is little that can be effectively done when a player has an off day on the floor.
Last night, on the offensive end both Owens and Ahmed had difficult shooting days. With Marcus LoVett out day-to-day (but possibly practicing this week), there is little effective adjusting that can be done. Players play through these days by trying to contribute in other ways.
The team must find a way to make it work both when things are going well and when they are challenging.
There are skillful players on this team and there will be a day when the team will outperform its current expectations, for example the Seton Hall game. Will those performances result in a win?
We fans struggle in games like this, where no light is visible at the end of the tunnel.
We will relish in the games of over performance. Could it even be Villanova? Or Xavier? The day will come.