Usually, I take some time to look at the previous game — in this case, the St. John’s home loss to Georgetown in front of a packed Madison Square Garden — and try to make sense of the game using tempo free numbers.
But the numbers say a lot of things went right.
St. John’s generated 12 more shots, attacking the offensive glass at a credible rate, and forcing the Hoyas into 10 more turnovers than the Johnnies committed.
The Hoyas didn’t really clobber the Red Storm on the glass on their offensive end.
They didn’t go HAM in the paint, and the free throw disparity was just two in favor of Georgetown — impressive, since St. John’s was chasing the game much of the day.
And despite all the defensive switching St. John’s did — multiple times, passing up one switch only to switch when deadly big man Jessie Govan and scoring guard Mac McClung were criss-crossing at the top of the arc — the defensive switches did not immediately yield results for the Hoyas. St. John’s actually got some stops with Justin Simon defending Govan or Sedee Keita on McClung.
No, it turns out the most important factor is shooting.
Georgetown’s effective field goal percentage was 57% to St. John’s 43%. The Hoyas shot 48% from deep, to the Red Storm’s 27%. The Hoyas took 42% of their shots from outside the arc to St. John’s 34% — a bit below the Red Storm’s season average of 38% of their shots from deep.
It turns out that the Red Storm were not terrible.
But their margin for error is slim, and the team made more errors than they could recover from to win.
The shooting problem
“I thought we played not our best,” Chris Mullin summed up after the game. “I thought they played hard. You have to give the other team credit, too.”
The ways in which St. John’s struggled could be unique to the game — but also unique to the overall effort. Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II had poor shooting games, combining for 5/26 shooting. Going 2/11 combined from deep is bad, but 3/15 inside the arc is also notably bad.
The Hoyas had a strong game plan, and they were diligent about getting back in transition. By getting back in transition and being present by the halfcourt line defending the ballhandler, they avoided some of the mismatches that Justin Simon and Shamorie Ponds can create with a head of steam. In the halfcourt, they shaded off of Simon, who did not make them pay when left open.
With some patience and a second run through the options, or even an extra pass on some possessions, St. John’s might have found more favorable shooting matchups. But these are also shots the players could have made.
The scouting problem, or...?
Teams are different, matchups are different. But there seems to be a struggle of structure here, a structure that isn’t getting this team in sync.
“We had a couple of spurts in the first half where we were going through the motions,” Mustapha Heron said after the game. “We put ourselves in that position.”
After the players departed, Mullin walked back the comments about the team being less together. For sure, players searching for an easy answer after a dispiriting loss will say and agree to things that may or many not be backed up with evidence.
But Mac McClung scored his Big East season high — and had a season-high in assists — which raises an eyebrow.
It’s not that McClung isn’t a good player. I’m not dismissing him as an adorable small school dunker who got lucky. He was quick confident and poised, unafraid of the small moment, unawed by the road, willing to pull, and strong with the ball.
McClung also caught with enough time to set and fire on most attempts. Red Storm players would drift inside to help on Govan, or slip into a no-man’s land to help on James Akinjo. Even after McClung’s hot start — and a supposed emphasis on locating him — St. John’s allowed him to catch and shoot without disrupting his movement.
The Johnnies did crowd him at times... and in those moments, he gave the ball up.
But back to going through the motions — a couple of players who did shoot well also spent some time complaining to the referees, drifting into half-certain positions in halfcourt defense, or jogging back on defense, leading to transition opportunities and fouls for their teammates who did get back on defense.
That, too, is going through the motions.
We aren’t owed an explanation from Chris Mullin about how this will improve. But hearing things like “they’re a good team” feels empty, like the only real solution is the capture of magic.
But seeing the solid 18 minutes that Sedee Keita gave the team was a moment of hope. He scored six points, had three offensive rebounds, and was a decent presence on defense, bottling up Govan and able to defend a guard for short stretches.
Greg Williams Jr. got on the floor with McClung, who looked a step faster than the rest of the Johnnies, and was willing to be a “floor burns” player.
LJ Figueroa (who for some reason in the box score, is not credited with taking the late three after the Greg Malinowski steal) was energetic, looking for ways to get involved. Mustapha Heron’s offense has been strong the last four games. Shamorie Ponds can still score when he’s missing from deep. Justin Simon still rebounds, still defends. Marvin Clark still is willing to put his body on the line.
There is enough talent here that St. John’s could surprise and win at Creighton, or even at Marquette.
Or even at Duke.
But somehow, Chris Mullin has to get a higher level of effort and execution out of this team. At 3-5 in the Big East, with the regular season league championship likely out of reach, and with only one win to make the NCAA Tournament committee take notice (over Marquette), that higher level needs to start now.