Prior to the game against DePaul [spoiler alert: St. John’s won], the Red Storm set up a shooting drill focused on LJ Figueroa, Mustapha Heron, Rasheem Dunn and Julian Champagnie. Being fed by student managers, the foursome took several shots first from the wing and then from the corner. Heron stood out hitting seven jumpers in a row at one point. Figueroa and Dunn also seemed in stride with their shooting during the 10-minute drill.
Like before many games, fans discussed the hopes and anxieties for the upcoming game; losing a game so badly in their last outing hits the confidence. Still, one predicted that this “will be our day to get out of our shooting funk and that Coach Anderson will have the team ready.”
Another was concerned that “sometimes our guards play too fast leading to unforced turnovers.”
The general sentiment prior to the game was that the Johnnies were ready, despite losing their last three Big East games.
The Johnnies starting lineup added Rasheem Dunn in place of Julian Champagnie. The rest of the starters were the same as in the past: Nick Rutherford, Josh Roberts, Heron and Figueroa. Fans wondered about the smaller starting lineup against a DePaul team known for its efficient and muscular frontcourt.
The scoring opened with a nice drive by Dunn down the lane for a 2-0 Red Storm lead. After a layup by Jaylen Butz for DePaul, LJ Figueroa hit a three from the left wing and a 5-2 lead. The student section behind the basket responded with an early call for “defense … defense”. Mustapha Heron, who had struggled in recent games, entered the scoring column at the 15:36 mark with a driving layup from the left on an assist by Dunn.
DePaul responded to take the lead at 13-7 at the first media timeout led by Charlie Moore with six points and Butz with five. Dunn then hit a three, followed by a drive down the right of the lane, and then a pull up six-footer. The score was 13-12 DePaul and once again chants of “defense … defense” were heard.
After a Devin Gage free throw increased the DePaul lead to 14-12, Julian Champagnie cut towards the basket and received a nice feed from Marcellus Earlington, tying the game at 14. The game remained close until the four-and-a-half-minute mark, when Dunn drove into the paint, pulled up and passed to an open Heron, who hit a three for a 30-24 lead. The Red Storm players were clicking, assisting on most baskets.
DePaul went into a zone defense and began to close the gap.
With the score 34-32 Heron hit what looked like a three but was awarded two points with 1:39 time remaining. With six seconds left in the half, Heron took down a defensive rebound, fed a streaking Rutherford, who laid the ball in as the half expired.
As the teams left the court, the officials huddled around the scorer’s table. The Johnnies had not yet been given points for Rutherford’s layup. Soon after, an announcement was made that not only was Rutherford’s layup timely but, after review, Heron was awarded a three point goal instead of a two and the score at the half was 39-34.
During the half time break a fan expressed happiness that the Red Storm was ahead then added, “we could have had more. We missed some easy layups.”
The starters for St. Johns in the first half started the second half. Six-foot-nine inch Paul Reed was assigned to cover Mustapha Heron as DePaul opened in a man to man defense.
Heron freed himself and, on a feed from Rutherford, hit a three to extend the lead to 42-34. Dunn followed driving into the paint and was fouled. He hit one of two foul shots and the Johnnies were up by nine.
The Red Storm did not use a full court press at the onset of the half; instead, Rutherford picked up DePaul guards aggressively as they crossed the midcourt line, often forcing them to give up the ball and then reset.
DePaul seemed uncertain and their guards were inconsistent with an earlier game plan of feeding Reed and, particularly, Butz underneath, where they had an advantage over the smaller Johnnies.
The teams exchanged baskets with Dunn hitting a pretty left-handed six-footer with three seconds on the shot clock to give the Red Storm a 49-41 lead with 14:15 to play.
Julian Champagnie joined the offense, scoring points in the second half on back door cuts and timely passes from several teammates. He also broke up a three on one by DePaul by deflecting a Blue Demon pass to a wing on a fast break around the ten minute mark.
Several Johnnies were contributing on offense and defense. Dunn was leading the way, attacking the basket, getting fouled and making successful entry passes to teammates. For the game the Johnnies assisted on 23 baskets out of 25 made.
At the official’s timeout at 8:11 the Dance Team did a riveting performance to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way”, which brought the crowd to its feet.
After the break, a Champagnie layup on a nice feed by Heron extended the lead to 66-54 with 7:23 to play. Then Jalen Coleman-Lands hit two successive three-pointers for DePaul, sandwiched around a Caraher layup on a from Heron.
The lead continued between five and nine points until Earlington made a critical play. Paul Reed of the Blue Demons had stolen the ball with the Johnnies up by five. Earlington hustled downcourt and took the ball from Reed without fouling, conserving the lead and allowing the Johnnies to run down the clock to under a minute to play. Earlington led the team with four steals, none bigger than the last one.
Fans applauded the play of Dunn and of the defense which held Reed, the Blue Demons top scorer, to four points.
Dunn and Heron lead the way
Dunn appeared in more control than in previous games registering an impressive line of 19 points, five assists and eight rebounds. He led the team with 31 minutes of playing time and only committed three turnovers.
Dunn limited the times he found himself under the basket with no shot and few passing options due to being overly aggressive. Seven of his rebounds were defensive and he took a lead role as a slashing point guard.
Heron regained his scoring touch by hitting several jump shots, including three three-pointers, an aspect of the Johnnies offense missing in the past three games.
Champagnie was the third leading scorer on perfect four for four from the field, all on drives off feeds from teammates.
Coach Anderson makes the right call
As the momentum started to swing at the 12:07 mark, Coach Anderson called timeout.
DePaul had scored twice on two dunks in 20 seconds. The second score came on one of the few occasions Johnnies’ defenders did not get back after a missed shot. The lead was down to six. Heron missed a three and a Moore layup cut the lead to four but the Johnnies were refocused. The Johnnies went on a 9-1 run and extended the lead to 12 points with seven and a half to play.
The Red Storm came out with a varied defensive plan. They started by dropping back and picking up aggressively when the Blue Demons crossed midcourt.
Several minutes went by and, when DePaul took a six point lead six minutes into the game, the Johnnies went to a different defense, intermittently adding different forms of the press.
At first, the Red Storm showed a full court press. picking up in the backcourt. Then, with no notice given, the Johnnies’ press forced the DePaul inbounds pass to a teammate in one of the corners. The Johnnie, covering the inbounder, immediately double teamed the ball handler, which either caused an errant pass or forced DePaul into overly quick ball handling and out of their offensive rhythm.
After the game DePaul coach, Dave Leitao, said that the Johnnies’ defense caused them to speed up their game physically and mentally, to which they did not respond well.
For the game the Johnnies had only eight turnovers, while the Blue Demons had 18.
Teamwork wins games … 23 assists on 25 baskets
The percentage of assists to baskets made was impressive. In addition, it could have been better as there were some nice entry passes to the front court players, who were in position but missed layups. Nevertheless, Julian Champagnie and David Caraher took advantage of the excellent playmaking and efficiently responded with scores.
Also impressive was the fact that five Johnnies had three or more assists, led by Dunn with five and Heron with four. In essence, the leading scorers were also the leading playmakers.
The Johnnies will travel to Providence to take on the Friars on January 15th.
Providence has been coming around after a slow start and will bring a challenge to the Red Storm. The game planning to bring the full court pressure intermittently worked against DePaul. The movement away from the ball freed Red Storm forwards for back door cuts and passes deep in the paint.
Champagnie, in particular, was effective freeing himself and converting. Dunn showed an ability to drive and kick and he did not place himself in awkward positions at the end of a drive as often as in the past. Heron was efficient from the three-point line and was not forcing shots. None of this, except for Dunn’s emergence, was present in the Georgetown game.
Which team will the fans see against Providence? The one that defeated DePaul or the one that was embarrassed in Georgetown? The recent quick correction of faults speaks well for the team and the coaching staff. Will it be enough to defeat an emerging Friar squad?