St. John’s fans were talkative and optimistic as the team entered the court for warmups before the noon game with the Providence Friars. Victories over Creighton and Marquette on the road sparked the enthusiasm.
Several fans mentioned the players-only meeting and described it as “huge” in accounting for the turnaround on the recent road victories.
Another fan expressed concern over the tendency for the Red Storm players to get into foul trouble, impacting the aggressive defense the team plays. Pointing to the comeback by Marquette when several of the starters had three or four fouls, she expressed a concern that with an inexperienced bench, the team would face a challenge if players began to play tentatively on defense out of necessity.
Another fan stressed the fact that the win over Marquette occurred despite a poor three-point shooting evening. “The team has learned to win,” even when shooting poorly.
In early warmups fans noticed Marvin Clark, Bryan Trimble and LJ Figueroa taking many three-point shots. Clark, in particular, seemed on target.
A Providence fan expressed an opinion at the beginning of the game, “with Mustapha Heron out, we feel the game is anybody’s game. But St. John’s has Shamorie Ponds.”
St. John’s fans were confident. Even with Heron sidelined with a knee bruise. The final result of the game, a 14 point home loss for St. John’s, raised doubts.
The game began with Justin Simon defending against the Friar’s star forward Alpha Diallo. On the first series Nate Watson missed a short jumper and the Friars took the offensive rebound, only to be tied up by Sedee Keita, a good start for the Johnnies.
LJ Figueroa responded by attacking the basket, being fouled and hitting two free throws for a 2-0 Red Storm lead.
A David Duke three and a Shamorie Ponds layup made the score 4-3 St. John’s. On their next possession, Providence hit Alpha Diallo, cutting sharply across the baseline and getting fouled by Justin Simon taking a short turnaround. He made one of two free throws, tying the score at four.
After a Friar score, Sedee Keita hit an open foul line jumper on a feed from Justin Simon, bringing the Johnnies even at six. A Johnnie fan remarked, “That’s his shot.” Another commented how aggressively he was battling to keep the Friars from feeding 6’10” inch Watson of Providence by fronting him down low. With Mustapha Heron sidelined, some wondered if this would be Keita’s breakout game.
Still, the beginning of the half was sluggish — more missed field goals than made — for both teams.
On the Friars next possession the crowd began the “defense… defense” chant; it was the first noticeable chant of the game from a passive crowd.
Freshman Josh Roberts entered the game at the 9:28 mark and the Johnnies went into a zone defense. On the next Friar possession, the defense forced a Friar turnover; Ponds streaked down the court, then fed Figueroa for a 10-footer to recapture the lead.
Providence continued moving the ball and catching the Johnnies switching into desirable matchups for the Friars. On several occasions Keita was found chasing one of the Friar guards 20 feet from the basket while Ponds fronted a Friar big under the basket. When teammates tried to assist, the corner wing was open and, as the game progressed, the Friar wings became hot, rarely missing these open shots.
Ponds fed Bryan Trimble Jr. for an open corner three which Trimble buried for his only points in the game, tying the score at 18 apiece. A half minute later Ponds hit a circus shot under the rim for a 21-19 Johnnies lead.
A series of sloppy plays by the Red Storm, including a missed dunk by Justin Simon, allowed the Friars to move back into the lead, 24-21 with 4:28 left in the half.
The Friars then went into a four-man zone with guard David Duke going man-to-man on Ponds, attempting to deny him the ball. It seemed to backfire when Duke fouled Ponds; but Ponds missed the first shot of a one and one.
The sequence of the game continued with the Friars hitting the boards and the Red Storm trying to attack the Friars on drives, mostly by Ponds, who hit a driving layup with two seconds to go in the half, bringing the Red Storm within two, 31-29.
At the intermission a fan remarked, “there’s a lot of red in the stands; this is our building again.”
Another fan noted that the fans in the stands were relatively quiet as compared to the energy seen in previous games. Perhaps it was the Red Storm’s struggles and the lack of flow to the choppy game.
The game continued as in the first half. Providence caught Keita in a switch and Providence’s Duke easily drove passed him extending the Friars’ lead to four. Marvin Clark II responded at 18:13 with a driving layup from the baseline, his first points of the game.
A short time later Justin Simon hit a six footer in the point for his first points of the game.
Ponds hit a 15-footer from the right wing; the lead went back and forth.
The turning point of the game arrived at 13:08.
Roberts picked up a blocked Ponds shot and put it in. He then blocked a Friar shot and passed to Ponds, who raced down the court. He passed up court to a streaking Figueroa who laid the ball in and was called for what many felt was a questionable offensive foul.
Instead of the Red Storm taking the lead with what everyone thought would be a score and a foul shot, it was Friar ball and Figueroa went to the bench with his fourth foul.
St. John’s would not lead again.
At the 11:24 official timeout the statistics told the tale: the Red Storm had a higher field goal percentage and led in steals but were being outrebounded 33 to 19 and outshot from three point range 6/16 for the Friars to 2/9 for the Red Storm.
Figueroa returned at the seven minute mark, but the Friar lead had grown in his absence to 54-47 in a 10-4 run by Providence.
Two minutes later he made an astute play: taking the ball out from under the Friar basket he observed a wide open area between the closest Friar and the basket. Instead of passing to a teammate, Figueroa bounced a pass off of a Friar defender’s leg, which bounced back to himself for an easy layup, bringing the deficit to seven.
At the 3:31 the Red Storm dance team performed a dazzling routine in a red, white and blue formal attire revving up a somewhat lethargic crowd. But would it rev up the Johnnies, now behind by 11?
Clark made two free throws; an intensive defensive effort found Isaiah Jackson of Providence throwing up a 25-footer with a Johnnies hand in his face.
When it went in, with the Providence bench cheering and making air guitar motions, the crowd began to disperse.
Ponds continued to attacking the Friar basket. But the Friars, one of the poorest free throw shooting teams in the Big East, hit their free throws and the Johnnies went down 70-56.
How can a team defeat the #10 team in the country, the Marquette Golden Eagles, on their home court then lose by 14 to a team that had lost three in a row?
Yes, there is parity in the Big East this year. Every Big East coach will tell you that any team in the league can beat any team on a given night.
But what happened to St. John’s starts with defense and rebounding. Unlike Marquette, Friar rebounders were able to power their way up through outstretched hands of Johnnie defenders. On the flip side, the Red Storm did not attack the offensive glass outside of sfour offensive boards by Josh Roberts.
The muscle of Providence appeared to both wear down and frustrate the Johnnies. When the Friars collapsed on Johnnie drives, Ponds or Simon were often off balance with disrupted vision for outlet passes; they did not find open shooters. The Johnnies only attempted 12 threes, with only two attempts successful.
In the Marquette game, Justin Simon was able to successfully post up against smaller Eagle guards. These opportunities were nonexistent against the Friars.
Who assists Ponds?
Earlier this season, it appeared that the strength of the Johnnies was the ability of each of the starters to step forward when a teammate was out or having an off night. With Mustapha Heron out this afternoon, LJ Figueroa looked to have the helping hand.
It was a two-point game when Figueroa picked up his fourth foul. Although Marvin Clark and Justin Simon began coming alive in the beginning of the second half, after Figueroa’s departure, neither filled the void.
The team and coaching staff need to study the game film and identify a way of combatting the Friar style of play. They will face the physical Friars again at Providence on February 20th.
In the Butler game Figueroa fouled out with four minutes to go in the midst of the comeback.
In the Villanova game he was injured late in the game when the Johnnies were in the lead.
Although not always high in the scoring column, Figueroa’s absence for segments of the game is a significant loss for the Johnnies. His ability to make off-balance shots and his defensive length makes a difference.
Did the frontline take a step backwards?
Against the Friars, perhaps the tallest, bulkiest team on the Red Storm schedule (save Duke), it was Sedee Keita’s chance to shine.
His stat line: seven points, three assists, two steals in 19 minutes of play.
But Keita did not take down a rebound. His primary replacement, Josh Roberts, took down five in 14 minutes of play — the top rebounder per minute. Marvin Clark, having an off day shooting, led the team with eight rebounds in 38 minutes of play.
The Friars took advantage of St. John’s game plan. Switches on the perimeter meant the Red Storm frontline was often out of position for rebounds. Fronting the Friar post players denied them the ball successfully, but forfeited box-out positioning, which led to second chance opportunities for Providence.
Clark, despite accuracy from three point distance in warmups, did not hit a three during the game. When hot, he is a difference maker for this team taking the scoring load off of Shamorie Ponds. Today he was not.
The Red Storm take on the Butler Bulldogs at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday, February 12th.
Unlike the Friars, the Bulldogs revolve around their guards and wings, who scored close to eighty percent of the team’s points in the January 19th game. The Johnnies have often fared well against teams with high scoring guards, though Butler also has some interior size that can take advantage of St. John’s.
With a 5-6 league record the team, for the rest of the season, needs to look at one game at a time and the staff need to make adjustments to compensate.
There is still lots of Johnnies basketball left to play.
There are still seven games to play then the tournament.
One game at a time.