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Three takeaways, St. John’s vs Creighton: a focus on depth

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Were the limitations of the roster a cause for the loss?

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, some of the more dedicated St. John’s fans are worried. Or sad, or salty, or a touch depressed after last night’s 78-71 loss to Creighton. A game that seemed nearly secure fell apart in the span of seven or eight minutes in the second half.

This “Takeaways” isn’t meant to be a soothing “it will be all right, let’s tuck you back into bed” piece, but there are reasons to not think you have just seen the apocalypse live, filled with fire, brimstone and a phalanx of angels.

The quick recap, if you didn’t want to break the flow by reading the full recap above: St. John’s went to Omaha, had a solid lead, fell into the “we are playing at Creighton” mental trap, gave up an 18-2 run, lost.

Missing in there was before “lost”, though, is that the Johnnies came within one, clawing back behind the scoring of Bashir Ahmed, Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon.

“When they had that little run in the second half,” said head coach Chris Mullin, “it didn’t knock us out and we were still in the game. We were just having a hard time knocking some shots down.”

For the fatalistic, the loss drops the team to 0-3, the team is badly coached, the talent can’t score, et cetera.

But to be considered:

  • St. John’s has been beaten like a rug at Creighton for the last two years;
  • This team has eight available players;
  • That fight back in front of 16,167 people was impressive;
  • St. John’s disrupted the ball movement of a potent offensive attack for long stretches.

Make no mistake. The Red Storm played terribly for stretches in the first and most notably, the second half.

But a lot of what the Johnnies did would be enough with a healthy Ponds and Marcus LoVett on the floor. Cold comfort on a cold day; all of those ideas won’t earn the wins needed for even the NIT.

Shamorie Ponds can regain his form. Marcus LoVett could come back and add an extra bit of punch on both sides - all while their teammates continue to hone their games. Justin Simon has been improving his ability to run the team and attack off the dribble, becoming the kind of player who takes full advantage when an opponent leaves a gap.

Tariq Owens, in particular is getting very comfortable with his perimeter jump shot. In the second half, like Clark and Alibegovic, he had a moment, maybe two, where he wasn’t confident that a defender wasn’t coming to defend him, and hesitated on a shot.

In last night’s game, every shot mattered.

Takeaways

Depth is, as we know, a problem. Last night, the depth was a problem on two fronts.

First, the 18-2 run looked to this outside observer like an issue of the bodies of the players not doing precisely what the mind wants - an issue of fatigue. Not big things, but being a step slow, a little more awkward, running out of steam.

This defensive possession comes to mind.

The second part of depth. The bench contributed... 19 minutes of rest for the starters.

That is it. The trio of Kassoum Yakwe, Amar Alibegovic and Bryan Trimble combined for 0/5 from the floor, three fouls, two turnovers and one steal.

The starters played 32 minutes (Clark, saddled with foul trouble in the first half), 35 minutes (Ahmed), 37 minutes (Owens), 38 minutes (Simon) and 39 minutes.

The best players should play; but the coach has to be able to trust his bench.

On the upside, when Alibegovic was on the floor, the Red Storm were +5 in points on Creighton, for what it’s worth.

Which Ponds will we see on Saturday? Shamorie Ponds was quiet, scoring the first two of his five points with 3:15 left in the first half. He had his moments, was a facilitator - but Creighton also targeted him a few times trying to drive by him.

Will the Shamorie Ponds of a few weeks ago - aggressive to the basket, quick and able to drop 20 points - appear on Saturday against a longer set of guards? It’s likely.