Coach Anderson stated after the West Virginia victory three days ago, “We were locked in and dialed in.”
Would the Red Storm be “locked in” for the game against the Brown University Bears? For the whole game?
For a team that only shot 12% on three point attempts in the victory over West Virginia, it did not take long to rewrite that performance. Eight seconds into the game LJ Figueroa hit a twenty-footer from the top of the key on an assist from Mustapha Heron; the Red Storm were ahead 3-0.
After Brown forward Matt DeWolf hit two free throws, Nick Rutherford drove into the paint and dished out to Julian Champagnie in the right corner for a three and a 6-2 Johnnies lead. Shortly afterwards, Figueroa picked up his second personal foul and had to come out of the game, replaced by Rasheem Dunn.
St. John’s was in a stifling man-to-man defense and limited the Bears to five points in the first five minutes of play, two free throws and one wide open three by Joshua Howard. On all of their offensive possessions the Bears were challenged, often taking poor shots as the shot clock was going down.
During the same five minutes the Johnnies shooting pattern was out of character. There were no fast break points. The Red Storm had seven jump shots, and six three-point attempts.
Greg Williams, Jr. and Marcellus Earlington entered the game shortly, and then David Caraher . Williams stole a Brown pass and fed Earlington for a layup; then Dunn drove the left side of the paint and was fouled. He made both foul shots for a 17-7 lead at the 11:53 mark.
The three-point shooting exhibition was over and the defense continued its stifling play as Brown was shooting 1/9 from the floor. The team was certainly locked in even with Figueroa on the bench for most of the half.
Brown tried to double team Johnnie ballhandlers, but to no avail; Earlington broke free and attacked the basket for a layup. He was fouled and made both foul shots for a 20-9 lead at 10:01. Williams made a nice pass from the right point to a cutting Earlington who laid the ball in from low in the paint on the right side. The Johnnies were up 22-9.
As the Red Storm front court players took down defensive rebounds, they were immediately looking downcourt and making outlet passes to guards streaking down the court. The “run game” was on fire.
On one such break Heron attacked the basket and came up short on a dunk attempt, hitting the front rim. Williams corralled the ball and, attacking the basket, dunked the ball through Brown’s that brought Johnnies fans to their feet.
The Red Storm, leading 24-9, seemed unstoppable.
But Brown had some playmakers and they had little trouble breaking down the Johnnies full court pressure and attacking the Johnnies’ basket as they settled down.
A Brandon Anderson three at the 5:06 mark dropped the Johnnies lead to 13. With three minutes to go in the half the Johnnies lineup of Roberts, Figueroa, Dunn, Caraher and Champagnie was once again stifling the Bears with a tight man-to-man defense. Brown was struggling to get good shots and the Johnnies defense, on one occasion, caused a 30-second shot clock violation.
As the half wound down the Johnnies went into a weave bringing the time clock close to zero. With five seconds left Dunn broke off the weave to the basket laying the ball in with one shot left on the clock, excellent execution.
The Johnnies left for the half time break up 41-24. Figueroa, though on the bench for about 10 minutes of the half, the leading scorer with 10 points.
With the Johnnies playing well one season ticket holder shared his concern — not with the team or the coach. It was with the fans. “We have to get the fan base back and energized,” he said, noting the empty seats.
Another fan noted that one issue was that many students had classes as late as 9:30 on weekday nights, keeping them away from games.
Would the Johnnies continue to be locked in for the second half?
Concerns arose quickly as the half began. Brown brought the ball down and easily hit a cutting Anderson for a back-door layup. Heron answered by driving into the paint and drawing a foul. He hit his two foul shots and the lead remained at 17, 43-26.
Despite a Heron eighteen footer at 18:45, two more Bears back-door layups, mixed in with an Anderson jumper and a Howard three-pointer, found the Red Storm’s lead cut to 45-35 just three minutes into the half.
Coach Anderson called a timeout. Defensive standout Nick Rutherford had to take a breather after picking up foul number three and Rasheem Dunn entered the game. A two-point jumper then a three by Heron brought the lead back up to 15 at 16:25 and Johnnies fans breathed a sigh of relief. It did not last long.
Brown began freeing its players for open three-point shots and most were falling. The Bears were also outrebounding the Red Storm 23 to 16 at the 11:53 mark.
Anderson became hot and a 10-foot jumper at the 10 minute mark brought the Bears within four. It wasn’t that the Johnnies were not playing defense at all. At 10:25 Heron blocked a Bear shot, Rutherford picked up the loose ball and fed Figueroa. Figueroa drove to the basket, faked a shot and passed to Champagnie for a nice layup and a 64-54 lead.
Once again the Johnnies had a double figure lead but there was still 10 minutes to play. Rutherford fouled out at the 9:22 mark and Brandon Anderson was still hot. He hit two threes and the Johnnies lead was down to four, 64-60.
After a Figueroa charging foul, an official’s timeout was called.
A fan, remembering last year’s defensive stopper, said “I wish we had Justin Simon back.” Very true but this night the Red Storm did have a stopper, Greg Williams.
Coming out of the time out Coach Anderson changed defensive assignments. Greg Williams would now take on Anderson, who had already scored 21 points and was red hot. It was the critical point in the game and Williams rose to the occasion, holding Anderson to four points for the final seven and one half minutes of the game.
With two minutes to play, Heron blocked a Brown shot under the basket and went down hard, grimacing.
Suddenly Carnesecca Arena was quiet. Truly one could hear a pin drop for the minute or two he lay on the floor, clearly in pain. Upon getting up with what appeared to be an ankle injury, he was assisted then carried off the court by his teammates.
Though the Red Storm pulled away to an 82-71 victory, fueled by hitting 24/26 free throw attempts, the victory was not without concern.
Heron and Figueroa, the two stars, played up to expectation this evening. Both made 7/16 field goal attempts. Both made 6/6 free throws. Figueroa hit three threes and ended with 23 points while Heron hit one, ending with 21 points. Figueroa led the team with 10 points in the first half, even though he sat on the bench for half of the period with early foul trouble.
Heron got hot in the beginning of the second half, scoring the Johnnies’ first 11 points in the half. With the schedule becoming more challenging the Red Storm needed their experienced players rounding into shape and they came through.
Unfortunately, the Heron injury with two minutes to play returns the Johnnies to the uncertainty of whether they will, indeed, have their leaders ready to play for the ranked Arizona Wildcats on December 21st and, soon after, the Big East schedule.
The Full Court Press – a Good Idea?
The Red Storm started the game using the full court press intermittently. When not pressing, the team impactfully picked up the Bears as they crossed the mid-court line. It was very effective as evidenced by the Bears’ poor shooting at the onset of the game. When doing so, the Johnnies were also holding their own on the defensive boards and building up a 15-point lead.
There will always be an ebb and flow to the game and an experienced Brown team will find its way back into the game. Nevertheless, the Johnnies found a way to maintain a healthy 17 point lead into halftime.
At the beginning of the second half there appeared to be a letdown on defense that had no relationship to the full court pressure. Several backdoor baskets by Brown in the first three minutes required defensive adjustments. As the Johnnies struggled to hold the Brown rally back, they seemed to extend the full court pressure more frequently.
However, the 17-point lead continued to dwindle. The Bears had no trouble breaking the pressure and attacking the Johnnies rim or hitting wide open teammates for three pointers.
There are games when the pressure is more effective than others but what is clear is that dropping back and applying intense pressure when opponents cross the mid court line has been reliably effective for the Johnnies this year.
Williams stat line was not the most impressive — four points, four rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes of play. Twice he attacked the basket aggressively only to have his lay-ups batted away. There was, of course, the emphatic dunk off the Heron missed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.
However, the game is played 50 percent on defense and it is on the defense that Williams shined. He stopped the hot Anderson, when the Johnnies were nursing a four point lead for the final seven minutes of the game and was as important as any other Johnnie in bringing a victory to St. John’s this evening.
The uncertainty of Mustapha Heron’s injury is significant. There is almost half a week days until the next game, which gives time for healing, and 20 days until the beginning of the Big East season. Coach Anderson has made it clear to all of his players — be ready. You do not know when your call will come to step up.
Throughout the 10 games this year different players have stepped up – for a game… for a half of a game. The Johnnies add Ian Steele to the lineup soon. Hopefully he has a significant role to play.
When the Johnnies are locked in on defense, they are very good. Such focus played a large role in the win against West Virginia and Greg Williams demonstrated his ability to compete on defense against high scoring guards.
If Heron is out for a while, someone must step up to fill his shoes. Regardless, everyone must always be locked in, particularly on defense. The Johnnies have shown they can do this. So it is one game at a time but Coach Anderson and his staff seem to have the team prepared.