Outscored by 10 points in the second half, the St. John’s Red Storm dropped a road game, 76-71, at Villanova to fall to 2-2 in the Big East.
No big shame in losing to a tough Wildcats team that improves to 3-0 in the Big East, even if their best win is over Florida State* and their second best win, per KenPom, is over St. John’s.
[*apologies for the typo, wrote Oklahoma State. Mea culpa.]
This game was different than most of the others for the Red Storm. It clocked in at 67 possessions, tied for the slowest-paced game St. John’s has played this season with the Cal game.
Perhaps for St. John’s, slow is the antidote to what they do well? After all, slower paced games not only have more time for defense, but also come with less chaos for the other team. and less running room for the Red Storm attacking athletes.
Just as in the Seton Hall game, the Red Storm slowing the pace against an opponent that is playing a zone did not end well. The shots did not fall, and the Wildcats used their strength to get to the line — and their skill to hit threes — to mount the comeback.
How it went down/ defensive numbers
Villanova scored 1.14 points per possession to St. John’s 1.06. On offense, that’s a step down compared to their efficiency numbers in a high-scoring season.
But on defense, that is the second-worst per possession defense the Johnnies have given up all season... to the California game. (Seeing a pattern, perhaps.)
The Red Storm defense also forced the lowest turnover percentage for any opponent this season — 15% of Wildcat possessions ended in a TO.
Marquette was also fairly low-turnover in their matchup a week ago, but the Johnnies harried them into their worst efficiency night all year.
Overall, that inability to keep the Wildcats from their desired shots — in particular, Eric Paschall in the first half (which is understandable, hard to find an answer for him) and Booth’s 15 second half points off of one dribble moves certainly hurt, but the inability to create chaos and easier transition opportunities also hurt.
And the Johnnies STILL came close to winning.
Villanova is a hard team to force into mistakes; they don’t have players who routinely put themselves in bad situations (at least those players don’t get major minutes).
The last ten minutes
That second half stretch was rough.
In the second half, after Shamorie Ponds’ four point play, the Red Storm shot 2/9 inside the arc, 2/7 from deep, and shot just two free throws.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats went to the line 10 times before the last minute of the game, where the Johnnies were looking to foul. Villanova also shot 3/6 from beyond the arc (Phil Booth strikes) and 2/3 inside the arc.
On the glass, everyone noticed that the Wildcats got some second chance opportunities, grabbing 29% of their misses. But only two of those came in that last ten minute stretch.
So yes, the rebounding is always and issue. But last night, the ability to contain on the perimeter, and the ability to defend a truck named Paschall running at the basket — was a bigger problem.
How much of the late malaise was because of the rotation choices?
Sedee Keita played only five minutes, none in the second half. Freshman Greg Williams Jr. did not see any time in the game. Mustapha Heron was limited by foul trouble to 8 minutes out of 20.
The team rolled with 20 minutes apiece for Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II, while LJ Figueroa (who turned his ankle on a drive with 4 minutes left) and Bryan Trimble Jr. played 16 each.
The defense could not keep Booth from stepping into his shot. And the ball movement slowed down a little, as the Johnnies tried to bleed clock, but struggled to get into their offense against different versions of zone defenses.
It’s hard to argue that Villanova requires a high level of concentration and execution, the kind that a staff needs to trust in their players to deliver. But by now, Keita and Williams should warrant a few spot minutes to see if they can affect the game, especially in a game where fresh legs on defense would have been useful.
Especially early in the conference season, it would be hard to fault the Red Storm for giving the newer players a few minutes, to break the Wildcats’ rhythm.
We will see what changes against DePaul. And the next time the Red Storm face Villanova on February 17 in Madison Square Garden.