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St. John’s three takeaways: looking ahead, defense, scoring consistency, outside shooting

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Reason for hope but much work to be done for 2018-19 year

Wendell Cruz

A look back at the two days of the Big East Tournament that St. John’s participated in...

Play-in Game: St. John’s vs. Georgetown

A snowy day and a three hour train ride (usually one hour long) were rewarded as the Johnnies came from behind in the second half to defeat the Georgetown Hoyas 88-77. It was truly a team effort, led by First Team all Big East guard, Shamorie Ponds, who scored 26 points on 9/14 shots.

The Red Storm, behind by six points at halftime, outscored the Hoyas 46-29 in the second half. All five starters scored in double figures and each had a moment in the game where they made a difference.

Bashir Ahmed scored 10 points in the game but it was his three just 12 seconds into the second half that quickly cut the Hoya’s six point lead in half, and started the comeback rolling.

Tariq Owens had 13 points on six of nine shooting from the field. With the score tied at 59 and 10 minutes to play in the second half, Owens drove across the key and hit a 10-foot hook shot that put the Johnnies ahead by two.

They never looked back and one of the main reasons was the play of Marvin Clark II. With 6:47 left to play and the Johnnies leading by five, Clark scored seven points in a minute and a half to extend the lead to 78-68.

Shamorie Ponds was his usual dependable self, handling the ball at crunch time and hitting his free throws to hold off any hoped for comeback by the Hoyas.

Quarterfinals: St. Johns vs. Xavier

A competitive first half despite two starters spending a lot of time on the bench due to foul trouble had St. John’s fans optimistic that a rally was to come in their quarterfinal game against the top-seeded Xavier Musketeers.

It was not to be.

St. John’s took the ball out down 33-29 and immediately turned it over on an ill-fated alley-oop attempt from Simon to Tariq Owens, who had spent most of the first half on the bench.

A layup by Karem Kanter increased the lead to six. Then, in what was probably the highlight of the second half for the Johnnies, Owens blocked a shot which Ponds picked up. He raced down the court and passed to Simon for a dunk, his 14th point of the game. Unfortunately, these were his last points of the game — at 19:00 left in the second half.

St. John’s kept the game close for five more minutes but Xavier scored at will. Several back-door cut plays found Musketeers all alone under the Johnnies’ basket for easy layups. Sharpshooters Trevon Bluiett and Kaiser Gates got hot. In the middle of the second half, four three-pointers in four minutes extended the Xavier lead to 18. The closest the Red Storm ever got after that was a deficit of 15 points.

On the Big East Tournament

It was snowing outside but the atmosphere in the Garden was all positive, almost festive. There was halftime entertainment with a young lady on a tall unicycle [ed: note — it was Red Panda!] captivating fans with a performance during the preliminary games on Wednesday night.

Throughout the games, on several occasions, fans rose to their feet and clapped as first responders were honored for their service.

There were defined areas for some schools’ fan base and yet many seats found a mixture of fans, very attentive to not only their school’s games but to the tournament as a whole. It was a league party, an end of the year reunion, and a good time had by all.

Big East Tournament Three Takeaways

Takeaway #1: Balanced Scoring

The balanced scoring in the Georgetown game escaped the Red Storm in the quarterfinal match with Xavier.

Certainly, the foul trouble of Tariq Owens and Bashir Ahmed, playing in his last Red Storm game, was a factor. With Owens and Ahmed on the bench, Xavier was able to double team Ponds and Simon on their drives towards the basket.

Observing the frustration of the offense, which shot at a 31% clip after shooting 41.7% in the first half, a St. John’s fan concluded “we need a wing who can shoot threes next season.”

Observing all of the schools on the first day of the tournament, it is noted that most schools had multiple players, wings, guards, even the big men, who could shoot threes with accuracy and spread the floor.

St. John’s, at the end of the season, really had only one, Marvin Clark. During the tournament Clark shot 5 for 14, a respectable 35.7%, while the rest of the team shot 19%. Ponds went 0/10 in the two games from three point land.

As fans asked the question, “Will Shamorie Ponds be back?” others replied that he does have work to do on his long distance shooting.

Takeaway Two: Let’s Talk Defense

The Johnnies defense has been outstanding during the end of the season as they rebounded from the 11-game losing streak.

If we take the second half of the Georgetown game and couple it with the first half of the Xavier game fans could continue to rave about the defense.

But the game is played for a full 40 minutes. Georgetown scored 48 points against the Johnnies in the first half of the play-in game and Xavier put on an offensive clinic in the second half of the quarterfinal.

Most troubling were the multitude of successful backdoor plays by the Musketeers. Also troubling was the failure of the Johnnies to prevent second chance opportunities, as Xavier had nine offensive rebounds. The Johnnies, at times, played tough man-to-man defense pressuring Xavier into a poor percentage shot only to not clear the defensive rebound.

Offensive rebounds often lead to uncontested second shots.

Takeaway Three: Leadership from the Bench

Fans were asking: what role does Mitch Richmond play as a coach? Others responded that he appears to mentor individual Red Storm players on their individual performance.

Fans do recognize the positive “vibes” of the players, who played hard throughout the season and credit the staff with maintaining a positive atmosphere in the locker room.

Statements after the Xavier loss by Shamorie Ponds talking about how “we” will improve through hard work and “we” will be one of the best teams in the league next year support the positive mind set of the team, even after a disappointing loss.

An interesting comment on the coaching staff came from a Villanova fan at the game. The fan observed that, when the game got out of hand and the Red Storm were hurriedly launching threes on most trips down the floor, Mullin would respond by “taking the shooter out of the game, which would disrupt the flow of the offense.”

The Villanova fan suggested instead of simply removing the shooter that a “time out should have been called redirecting the entire team to the game plan.” It was an interesting observation made by the fan of the most successful program in the Big East.

Outlook for Next Season

The staff has four challenges ahead for the upcoming season:

  • Identify areas of each player’s game that will benefit from personalized attention from the coaching staff. Certainly sharpshooters Mullin and Richmond should be able to help this athletic team become more precise in their long range shooting. All the Big East teams, with the exception of Georgetown and DePaul, appeared to have a multitude of accurate three-point shooters.
  • Fill out the roster so that the problems of inadequate bench support do not reemerge. What role is there for Kassoum Yakwe for next year?
  • Identify how to best merge the slashing skills of Ponds and Simon with the rest of the team’s skills on offense. Identify if there is someone, perhaps Sedee Keita, who can play the low post, a part of the offense has been missing. What role is Tariq Owens best suited for? An outside shooting wing? Playing down deep with his back to the basket? He has shown promise in both areas of his game and, as an incoming senior, may be ready to make that “senior leap” we have seen in St. John’s players in the past.
  • St. John’s effectively used a zone defense at times during the year. The Johnnies have athletes who play good man defense but there were games, particularly in the win against Butler, that switching from the man to zone and back again brought positive results. Fans suggest implementing a zone or a variety of zones in early practices so that playing a zone will become second nature to the team and, thus, when needed during next year’s season, will be effective.

Next year’s outlook on paper looks good. If Shamorie Ponds returns, his “we will work hard” attitude, combined with support from transfers and incoming freshmen, should finally bear fruit for the Red Storm.

It will be year four in the Mullin era. It is fair to anticipate a breakout year for the Johnnies.