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Three takeaways: St. John’s rolls past St. Francis with balanced scoring, freshmen, defense

Freshmen contribute in team effort over the Terriers, but free throw struggles continue

St. Francis crossed the county line from Brooklyn with a reputation of shooting threes, converting on 36 percent of them. Some St. John’s fans felt some anxiety facing a team that rebounds well with small crafty guards who shoot threes at a reputable clip — all possible weaknesses for St. John’s that could be exposed — bringing the winning streak to a harsh halt.

The first five minutes of the game added to the anxiety of a large but relatively quiet crowd.

The Terriers won the tap, brought the ball down court and missed their first field goal attempt as Melvin Clark II thwarted a Terrier drive and forced a poor shot from the corner. The shooter, Glen Sanabria, the senior leader of St. Francis, got the offensive rebound and passed out to Jalen Jordan, who hit a three for a 3-0 lead.

An offensive rebound after a nice defensive effort by Clark, then a Terrier three, getting St. Francis’ leading scorer going.

It seemed it might be a long night.

The lead remained for another two minutes until another nice play by Clarke. Holding the ball at the top of the key he made a quick entry pass to a streaking LJ Figueroa, who laid the ball in reducing the lead to 3-2. Next, it was Mustapha Heron’s turn to make the entry pass to a cutting Figueroa for a second layup, once again cutting the St. Francis lead to one, 5 to 4.

Heron picked up his second foul at the 16 minute mark and had to leave the game. At the time he departed the Terriers were actively attacking the boards and held a six to three lead in rebounds. Bryan Trimble Jr. entered the game as a replacement for Heron.

Shamorie Ponds brought the ball down court and paused at the top of the circle then made a quick cross-court pass to Figueroa in the right corner. Figueroa drained a three and the Johnnies had their first lead, Figueroa 7, St. Francis six.

A Clark three from the top of the key and a thunderous dunk by Simon, which found Terrier defenders just looking, brought the crowd to its feet. The Red Storm led 14-6 at the 13:08 mark.

The Poster by Justin Simon
Wendell Cruz

After the 11:52 media timeout, Coach Mullin inserted Mikey Dixon and Greg Williams Jr. for Ponds and Justin Simon, a lineup which included three reserves.

Meaningful playing time for the reserves would be the order of the day and fans wondered how they, particularly Williams, would respond.

During the following minute, starter Marvin Clark showed his impact. Trimble fed him for a driving basket then Clark blocked a shot on the next St Francis possession. When the Johnnies brought the ball down the court, they again fed a driving Clark to the basket where he was fouled and calmly hit his two free throws. The score was now 18-8.

At 9:53 Ponds fed an attacking Williams who drove to the basket from the left corner and laid the ball in. He looked smooth in his aggressive attack on the basket, and Ponds’ pass was pinpoint accurate.

Ponds took over on the next two possessions, first spinning left, then back right and being fouled. He hit his free throws for his first points in the game.

Then another pinpoint pass, through two Terrier defenders from 20 feet away, led Dixon perfectly for a layup and a 26-12 Red Storm lead. The reserves were playing well.

Mikey Dixon to the hoop
Wendell Cruz

St. Francis tried to hang close to the Johnnies and the margin vacillated between eight and 14 points for the remainder of the half.

After a corner jumper by the Terriers’ Chauncey Hawkins, a fan lamented, “there they go again. Another open three from the corner.” A second fan chimed in – “but they are only shooting fifteen percent on their three point attempts.”

With a Terrier three-point percentage under twenty percent for the half, the primary concern going onto halftime was the Terriers’ success in obtaining offensive rebounds. However, with only a few seconds left in the half, Dixon pushed the ball down the court and calmly made a 30-footer as the clock wound down for a comfortable 37-25 St. John’s lead at the half, St. Francis offensive rebounds or no.

The Johnnies were attacking the rim with ease and holding St. Francis to 27 percent shooting.

However, St. Francis had eight offensive rebounds in the first half, while the Johnnies had none. Those rebounds resulted sometimes in successful put backs and, if not, additional chances for the Terriers to score. The rebounding had kept them in the game.

Johnny Thunderbird in an ugly sweater
Wendell Cruz

Second Half

The second half began with Simon at the point handling the ball and Ponds setting up in the right corner. As Simon dribbled towards the top of the key, Ponds cut in back of his defender towards the basket. Unfortunately, the Simon bounce pass was not reachable. A good plan but poor execution.

However, It did not take long for the Johnnies to begin executing remarkably well.

First it was Ponds driving down the middle and hitting a finger roll.

Then Figueroa tipped in his missed layup in and suddenly the Johnnies were up 41-25.

Mikey Dixon took a rebound and drove the court in four seconds and a fan behind me exclaimed, “he’s as fast as Ponds.” He was fouled and made one out of two free throw attempts.

After a three by Bryan Trimble at 10:10 the Johnnies led 67-34. The Terriers had only scored nine points in the first 10 minutes of the second half as the Red Storm defensive effort was stifling.

The Terriers were bombing away from distance, even though their shooting percentage was a 18%. The Terriers who had an eight to nothing lead in offensive rebounds in the first half were out rebounded on the offensive boards ten to four in the second half.

With the game in the blowout periods, the deep bench and walk-ons had a chance to shine.

The starters cheer on the walk-ons and bench
Wendell Cruz

At the 2:32 mark freshman Marcellus Earlington received the “Heads Up” award for the night. Being fouled, he shot from the line on a one and one. Missing the shot, he noticed the Terriers were standing at the foul line anticipating a second shot. Earlington calmly took the rebound down and laid the ball in.

Another moment to remember for the freshmen occurred when Figueroa had just missed a driving layup and out of nowhere came Greg Williams, soaring over the rim for an emphatic dunk. People in the stands rose to their feet cheering quite an athletic play. By the end of the game Williams had scored eight points and Earlington seven.

Marcellus Earlington drives
Wendell Cruz
The starters cheer
Wendell Cruz

Fellow freshman Josh Roberts scored two points and had two rebounds in three minutes of play.

With the Johnnies up by thirty points three walk-ons entered the game. The crowd cheered as loudly for Justin Cole’s ten footer from just inside the free throw line as for any other basket the Johnnies had during an evening.

Justin Cole drives
Wendell Cruz

It was a night when the offense sparkled and the defense came together, holding the Terriers to 28 percent shooting from the field and 17 percent from the three point line.

Three Takeaways

Take the high-percentage shot

Open lanes to the basket were abundant with the Terriers attempts at suffocating defense, and the Red Storm took advantage.

Out of 63 field goal attempts only 17 were from three-point range. The Johnnies did shoot an acceptable 41% from the longer distance but they really excelled, when taking shorter, higher percentage shots. Out of 46 shots, Red Storm players hit on 27, a strong 59 percent. And that percentage includes two more misses on alley-oop attempts that really were not close.

The Johnnies only had 13 assists and this was attributed to the Terrier defensive scheme which pressured the Red Storm almost immediately after crossing mid-court, leaving no one under the basket when a defender was broken down on drives to the basket.

LJ Figueroa with the layup
Wendell Cruz

The Johnnies just seemed a step quicker than their Terrier opponents for the entire game. The Johnnies had balanced scoring led by Figueroa and Dixon with 13 points each followed by Ponds and Clark with twelve.

Oh, those free throws

The slump in free throw shooting continued with the Red Storm, as a team, shooting 11/22 from the line. The conference schedule is coming soon and the team cannot afford to shoot so poorly from the line.

The team short 54% from the field, 41% from three point land and only 50% from the line. This deficiency need correction, because such a good-shooting team should be better at the line.

Let’s talk defense

St Francis entered the game shooting 36% from three-point range.

Jalen Jordan hit a three in the first minute, but it was downhill for the Terriers for the rest of the game. The final totals found St. Francis hitting 5/30 attempts, scoring 15 points on thirty shots. The Johnnies stifling man to man defense only occasionally left an open shot and the Terriers hurriedly took the few they had, missing most.

The team only used its three man, three quarter press to slow the Terriers down once or twice. It simply was not needed today.

Once the Johnnies cut down on Terrier offensive rebounds in the second half, the outcome was sealed.

The final rebounding totals found the Red Storm up by 14, 49-35. It truly was a team effort.

Each of the starters pulled down between five and nine rebounds, led by Figueroa. Freshman Marcellus Earlington impressed by pulling down five rebounds in three and a half minutes of play to go along with his seven points.


It was a team effort and this night “team” included the freshmen. Both Williams and Earlington impressed and Roberts played capably. All three, but particularly Williams, demonstrated an ability to play supporting roles as the season progresses.

It was the dominant victory that fans had been anticipating. The Terriers, who had challenged a Boston College team earlier in the year, seemed unable to do the same with St. John’s.

The Johnnies defense stood tall and consistent in the victory. The tendency to stray away from your man to double down on another still was present but did not have a true impact on the game.

The balanced scoring bodes well for the future. But the foul shooting performance this month does not. Sacred Heart is next on Saturday and then... conference play.