The Red Storm beat the Saint Peters Peacocks by 10 points in a bizarre game that saw almost flawless efforts at the beginning of each half and significant struggles at the end of each half for St. John’s.
“We were sloppy—that’s the word right there,” guard Mustapha Heron said after the game. “We got sloppy and they took advantage of it. I think it’s a concentration thing. You’ve got to be able to take care of the ball.”
One fan, who had been so optimistic at the beginning of the game said during the team’s late second half struggle, “one team was hungry at the end... and the other team was not.”
The Johnnies jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Nick Rutherford fed Julian Champagnie for a three from the top of the circle.
On defense, St. John’s was playing a tight man-to-man, picking up the Peacocks as they crossed the mid court line. The pressure made Saint Peter’s work on offense and the Peacocks shot dismally in the first ten minutes of the half.
At the first official timeout, the Johnnies were up 11-4 after another three by Champagnie, this time assisted by LJ Figueroa. Shortly thereafter, Mustapha Heron who drove into the paint and dished out to an open Campagnie, this time for a two — a 13-4 lead.
The offense was on fire and the defense was throttling the Peacocks.
After Champagnie returned the favor to Heron, assisting on a Heron three, a Figueroa step back two made the score 18-4 and the second team jumped in what looked to be a blowout.
The cheerleaders called out “Let’s Go Defense” and everything on the floor in Red Storm land was almost perfect. A Damien Sears layup, assisted by David Caraher, made the score 20-4. The Johnnies had six assists on eight baskets. The defense was picking up aggressively. The Red Storm pressure created eight Peacock turnovers to two for the Johnnies.
Josh Roberts was blocking shots and, with 8:38 left in the half, the lead was 28-6 after a Heron three assisted by Champagnie.
Over the next four minutes, St. Peters went on a 10-3 run, closing the gap to 15 points. Contributing factors were two turnovers, two missed layups and making one out of three foul shots. Missing foul shots has been an Achilles heel for the Red Storm, who were actually shooting well from the field for the game.
Self inflicted Red Storm turnovers were cropping up, for example, making a pass into an area on the court vacated by a cutting teammate.
Two baskets by Marcellus Earlington and a basket by Roberts kept the Johnnies ahead 37-24 at the half. At the end of the first half both teams had 10 turnovers. The Red Storm lead was based upon higher field goal percentage, particularly from three-point land.
The Johnnies came out with the focus they displayed in the first 12 minutes of the game, starting by by feeding Champagnie at the top of the key. Though he missed the jumper, Figueroa rebounded the miss and passed to Heron for a layup.
After exchanging baskets with the Peacocks, Figueroa, off a feed from Heron, hit a deep three and the Johnnies lead was extended to 44-27 at 18:17. The ball was moving and all three leading scorers were contributing.
A Figueroa steal and a feed to a driving Heron led to a dunk. Figueroa stole the ensuing Peacock inbounds pass and took it to the rim himself for a layup and was fouled. After he made the free throw, St. John’s was up 49-29.
For the next nine minutes the Red Storm continued to play tight defense and increased the lead on a Caraher layup (assisted by Damien Sears) to 68-43. A Greg Williams, Jr. drive brought the Peacocks dropping inward and opened up Champagnie in the right corner for a jumper and a 73-50 lead.
It appeared that the miscues of the middle of the first half were corrected. The Johnnies were slightly outrebounding the Peacocks and continuing to outshoot them.
But then came the worst six minutes of the season to date.
Five Red Storm turnovers and four offensive rebounds by the Peacocks resulted in a 19-2 run.
St. John’s looked powerless, unable to execute on offense without some mistake. The Red Storm also missed their one foul shot attempt on a one and one scoring opportunity. Four free throws by LJ Figueroa in the last 30 seconds of the game iced the victory that, by the end, did not seem like a victory to fans.
At game’s end, after congratulating the Peacocks, Mustapha Heron was observed passionately speaking with the squad at mid-court for some time. All members of the team were attentively listening.
System Breakdown: One on One Moments on Offense
When the Red Storm were spaced on offense and running their system, good things happened.
In the first 12 minutes of the first half, Red Storm players assisted on eight out of 10 made field goals.
In the first 13 minutes of the second half, there were 11 assists on the first 13 field goals.
Twenty-five minutes of solid play found the Johnnies having 19 assists (one per every 1.3 minutes of play).
During the 15 minutes the team struggled the team registered just three assists (one per five minutes of play).
Moving the ball in an organized, selfless way clearly made a difference.
There were moments when the Red Storm players began attacking one-on-one against an opponent that was thought to have inferior athletes, perhaps. It was at these times that the system broke down and the team was more prone to turnovers.
One possible solution: when the going becomes difficult, use the high post.
On a couple of sets Julian Champagnie set up in the high post and the team fed off him. Even though he missed a jumper, he lured the Peacocks forward, which left LJ Figueroa able to hit the offensive boards successfully.
Josh Roberts made some nice feeds off the same set against Wagner. Working off a Johnnie setting up in the high post can organize the team and open up those on the wings. Though not often used, it seems to have worked.
Defensive pressure, but what type of pressure
During the first nine games of the year, there have been times that the full court defensive pressure creates quick offensive strikes going the other way.
Much more often it did not.
Teams have ball handlers skilled at breaking the press and most opponents have broken it easily. Sometimes it has taken significant time off the 30-second shot clock and, if it takes 10 seconds or more for an opponent to get into their set, then there is value in this type pressure.
If opponents break through the pressure quickly and are aggressive attacking the basket, which St. Peter’s was, it is clearly an advantage to the offense.
At other times, the Johnnies pick up opponents just when they cross the mid court line. Nick Rutherford has been stifling in this regard, as has Mustapha Heron. Josh Roberts has been excellent in picking up opponents who free themselves to attack the basket. Many turnovers are created when opponents never have a chance to see the frontcourt clearly due to this type pressure.
The challenge for the Red Storm defense is both to mix defenses and to also hold their own on the defensive boards.
During the last six minutes of the game, the team struggled to end Peacock possessions. Were players out of place? How can this improve?
Focus on the 25 minutes... or on the 15 minutes?
Since St. John’s almost lost a 23-point lead in six minutes of play, the tendency is to focus on those six minutes.
But what about the stellar minutes of play?
What went right is important to focus on as much as what went wrong. An assist every 1.3 minutes of play was excellent and the decisions made during those moments of play should be identified as worthy of repetition.
The team seems to have, after the first six or seven minutes of starter play, randomly mixed second teamers with starters. The starting five has appeared to gel and there is talent in the second grouping.
Dunn provides speed, Caraher outside shooting and rebounding, a nice combination of skills. Earlington attacks the basket with an aggression that is hard to stop. He and Dunn draw a lot of fouls and it is time to work on their free throw shooting. But the talent is there.
Can the team perform on the high level for 40 minutes a game?
The upcoming challenge of West Virginia will demand it. Both Figueroa and Heron had strong games against Saint Peter’s. They will need to keep it up. Though a freshman, Julian Champagnie has impressed and the consistent improvement in Josh Roberts is evident.
Flashes have been seen from others, particularly David Caraher and Rasheem Dunn while stellar defender Nick Rutherford has been a steadying force. Put it all together and a victory over a talented West Virginia team could be in the future.