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Three takeaways: despite balanced scoring, St. John’s comes up short in OT loss to Seton Hall

Six man rotation comes up short; Press Effective but...; Seton Hall dominates down low

The flow and comments from an overtime home loss for the St. John’s Red Storm, the third-to-last game of the regular season....

Pregame: Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon and Kassoum Yakwe were observed taking extra shooting practice 30 minutes before the game with the Seton Hall Pirates began. Yakwe was hitting over 50 percent of his jumpers, mostly from 15-plus feet from the basket.

Fans began to wonder if today was the game he would see some action against a particularly strong rebounding team from Seton Hall, a team that would test the Red Storm interior. [editor’s note: Yakwe did not.]

A St. John’s fan, who travelled from Albany to see the game, expressed his appreciation for the consistent hard work the team had shown. He also told me, “I like Coach Mullin; his calm demeanor keeps them playing hard and working through adversity.”

He stated that his daughter graduated from St. John’s and that he appreciates that the university “does so much to teach its students about life” through extracurricular activities like community service. We talked about the emphasis on the basketball players being involved with community service along with their fellow students.

As for the game...

Shamorie Ponds & Justin Trimble jump during player introductions
Wendell Cruz

First Half

The game began with Justin Simon guarding the second leading scorer for the Pirates, Myles Powell, with Shamorie Ponds was guarding third-leading scorer Khadeen Carrington, both challenging assignments. The leading scorer for the Pirates, Desi Rodriguez, was out for the game with an ankle injury.

The game began well enough for the Johnnies with Marvin Clark II rebounding an errant three by Ponds and laying the ball in. After a layup by Angel Delgado tied the score, Tariq Owens hit three from the top of the key and St. Johns led 5-2 at the 18 minute mark. A fan remarked, “Tariq’s jumper looks smooth today.”

Smoothness went out the window, St. John’s went cold and Delgado went on a personal 6-0 run for an 8-5 Seton Hall lead. Equally significant: Clark committed two reach in fouls and was on the bench at the 14:53 mark of the game. He would not return to the floor for twelve minutes.

Bryan Trimble Jr. came in and Carrington easily drove by him, being fouled along the way. His old-fashioned three point goal put the Pirates up 11 to 5 at the 14:13 mark.

The Red Storm began a full court zone press; steals by Simon then Ponds led to five quick points. Suddenly, the Johnnies led 13-11.

Carrington gets caught by the press
Wendell Cruz

Bashir Ahmed took over the offense for the Johnnies during the next two and a half minutes. He hit a layup and made the foul shot after being fouled. Ahmed then grabbed an offensive rebound and laid the ball in for his eighth point in the first eight plus minutes of the game. St John’s led 18-15.

Bashir Ahmed works through traffic
Wendell Cruz

Seton Hall kept pace with the Johnnies on the strong play of forwards Delgado and Ismael Sanogo, who, between them, scored 16 points in the first half on shots two to four feet from the basket. St. John’s was unable to cut off penetrating passes to the Pirate forwards deep in the paint.

Despite a spurt of points from Ponds near the end of the half, Seton Hall led 38-34 at the intermission.

Second Half

A Marvin Clark steal and a feed to a streaking Simon cut the score to 38-36 Seton Hall. The crowd became alive and chants of “Defense … defense” could be heard throughout the Garden.

At the 16:01 mark Clark hit a three from the right corner and the Johnnies were ahead for the first time since the 8:41 mark of the first half. At the 13:03 mark Clark hit another three from the right corner and St. John’s was up 53-48.

It took Seton Hall fifty seconds to tie the score, owing to some porous defense and a hastily-taken deep shot. The statistics at the 11:56 TV timeout found a competitive game with Seton Hall leading in field goal percentage (50 to 48%), three point percentage (31 to 29%) and free throw percentage (86 to 80%). Seton Hall, as anticipated, was dominating the rebounding statistics.

Shortly after the timeout Ponds drove the right side and put up an awkward looking 15-footer that missed. As one of the Pirates grabbed the rebound a Seton Hall fan commented “Why don’t you guys ever go for offensive rebounds? We don’t get it.”

At 10:35 Powell made a banked in 23-footer and it was now catch up time for the Red Storm. Once again the teams exchanged baskets with the Pirates maintaining a lead although never by more than five points. With 2:14 left in the game Clark hit another three pointer this time from the top of the key. The lead was now just one.

Carrington was fouled and hit one of two foul shots and, with under a minute left, Ponds drove left off an Owens screen for a layup tying the score.

Ponds and Powell each hit a pair of clutch free throws and the second half ended in a 70-70 tie.

Overtime

Seton Hall fans commented, “Why don’t we feed Delgado? He scored ten points in the first half but barely touched the ball in the second.”

Coach Willard of Seton Hall made the same observation. On their first two offensive sets Delgado received a pass deep in the paint and scored twice. A free throw by Powell gave the Pirates a three point lead with 1:35 to play. With 1:05 left and twenty seconds on the shot clock Clark gave a foul to Carrington one of the Pirates’ best free throw shooters. Carrington made both shots and the Pirates led by five.

Seven seconds later, Ponds was fouled and made both foul shots. The lead was once again three. This time the Red Storm played tight defense causing Carrington to take a long 29-foot jumper which missed. Ahmed got the rebound and was fouled.

As he walked to the line St. John’s kept Clark and Simon in their backcourt and left Ponds and Trimble at the free throw line should Ahmed miss.

Fans asked why? Ahmed’s free throw shooting is not the strength of his game. Ahmed’s free throw looked on line but bounced off the rim and Sanogo of Seton Hall easily pulled in the rebound.

St. John’s now had to foul Carrington, who sunk two free throws to sink the Red Storm’s hopes of once again getting into the winning column for the year and damaging their hopes for a NIT bid.

Three Takeaways

Balanced scoring still an asset

As Ponds was struggling in the first half, Owens, Ahmed and Clark became effective scorers. Simon played his usual all-around game and St. John’s kept the game close. Ponds began scoring midway through the second half and brought the Johnnies back to force overtime.

Shamorie Ponds shoots over fellow Brooklynite Carrington
Wendell Cruz

However, in overtime only Ponds scored for the Johnnies. During one frustrating sequence with Seton Hall up by two, Clark missed a three pointer and Owens got the offensive rebound. Ponds then missed another three-point attempt and Owens again got the rebound. He fed Ahmed, who made a nice move towards the basket, but missed the layup attempt.

Though Ponds scored the only points in the overtime period, each of the Johnnies on the court had at least one shot but none came through.

Included in these misses were two missed layups and five missed three-pointers. When playing only a rotation of six players, did fatigue play a role in the performance of the team in overtime?

It wasn’t the three-pointer; it was the dump down low

For most of the season fans were concerned about the Johnnies’ three-point defense; opponents could dribble drive, draw a double team and kick out to an open shooter.

That play was a rare occurrence today. Seton Hall made five out of twenty-three three point attempts and one was a long bank shot by Powell. St. John’s defenders were more aggressive with the Seton Hall guards, staying with them and challenging them on most jump shot attempts.

But clearly problematic for the Johnnies was Seton Hall’s ability to feed Delgado and Sanogo low in the blocks for easy and almost always successful field goal attempts.

Entering the second half the Johnnies seemed able to intercept some of these passes and Seton Hall went to a guard-oriented offense led by Carrington and Powell.

But when the game was on the line, the Pirates successfully fed Delgado for easy baskets. Tariq Owens guarded Angel Delgado on most plays, but was unable to hold him away from the basket alone. The choice to defend the guards meant that the team did not send double teams on every Delgado touch.

The press worked but…

The full court press by the Red Storm midway in the first half was very effective creating steals which immediately were converted into points. The Red Storm used it for three or four Pirate possessions, then dropped back into their normal defense.

Fans wondered why. It could be the fact that Seton Hall eventually broke the press resulting in an easy layup.

Or was it that by using a six-man rotation, as good as the St. John’s athletes are, energy needed to be conserved.

Seton Hall regularly substituted for all of their players including their most effective scorers. This left the Pirates with fresh legs as the game wore on. Tired legs can impact performance, and a diminished energy level may have impacted those five missed three point attempts in overtime. Tariq Owens fouled out in overtime, and defended with four fouls from the 5 minute mark in the second half.

Fans wondered… why was Kassoum Yakwe not used at all, after seeing him take extra shooting practice prior to the game? Could he and Amar Alibegovic have provided some needed, perhaps brief, respite for the starters? Or would their miscues have made the game out of reach?

Outlook

We fans can be won over by the smallest improvements in performance and become discouraged by the smallest drop offs. Did the Johnnies play that much better in a one point win over DePaul than they did in this overtime loss to Seton Hall? The answer is no.

We must take these games one at a time. The Butler game is now critical for the Red Storm’s hopes to receive a NIT bid and a NIT bid would, under this team’s circumstances, be a significant achievement. Without a win, St. John’s would be two games under .500 with as little as two games to play (the finale at Providence and the Big East Tournament).

Let’s remember the performances of Ahmed early in the game and Clark, as the game wore on. They provided support for Shamorie Ponds and it was almost enough to win the game.

Is there another Duke/Villanova surprise left in this team?

We fans need to give the team a boost in support, a boost that can supply that little bit of extra energy to win these close, competitive games.

The players state that fan support makes a difference. They believe in themselves and we should do the same.