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Three takeaways from St. John’s/ Providence: silver linings, rebounding, adjustments

Red Storm struggled with being disruptive and matching the physicality of the Friars, but still were in striking distance of a win.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Providence Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

For as much as Wednesday’s St. John’s 63-58 loss to Providence felt like a root canal or shoveling rocky dirt at the end of a long day, note that St. John’s was never down by more than eight on an evening where the offense was a full-on struggle.

There were some promising performances. Greg Williams, Jr. and Marcellus Earlington were strong in stretches. Both had some struggles in decision-making. On a team that struggles, some contingent of fans always find the next player up popular, of course.

Julian Champagnie had a solid game filling in some of the gaps, and looked composed.

The staff made some decent adjustments. Unlike the last five or so contests against Providence, the game didn’t get out of control. The staff did not look on like helpless deer while the Friars banged through the little resistance the Red Storm had this time. Providence WAS missing a pair of rotation players, but there was progress.

There were some performances that need work. LJ Figueroa looked less certain and balanced on his outside shot, a shot that bailed the Red Storm out of many games this season. As the focus of the defense, Mustapha Heron had a scoreless first half, and as he started diversifying his game, picked up foul trouble. Nick Rutherford was not as much of a menace on defense.

The style of offense struggled to open up good looks against man defenses. Rasheem Dunn’s quickness got him opportunities, but the finishing at the rim needed work. Josh Roberts didn’t get many minutes, and in some of his playing time struggled to make an impact — though he made a nice assist in there, too.

Keys to the Game recap

Match the physicality: St. John’s was so-so on this metric. Yes, the Red Storm did not return that physicality. At one time, heads went down, frustrated, after the Johnnies did not get a whistle they felt they deserved. The game was long, physical, a slog. The Friars grabbed 35% of their misses.

But the Red Storm stayed close enough that slightly better shooting would have made the game a hard-fought win. The physicality may have been lacking, but the grit was there.

Make smart passes: St. John’s had only nine assists and 13 turnovers. The team struggled with ball protection and smart passes.

Disrupt: Providence had one stretch where they made three baskets in a row (and drew a trio of free throws). Other than that, their offense lacked flow. Luwane Pipkins had one assist and three turnovers; as a team, Providence had nine assists and 15 turnovers.

Three takeaways

At least they know who should be shooting. The shooting performances were poor. But look at who took St. John’s 22 threes; LJ Figueroa took 12 (34% shooter on the season), Mustapha Heron took 4 (35% on the season from three), Greg Williams Jr. took four (30% shooter from deep), and Julian Champagnie (30%) and David Caraher (26%) each took one.

Rasheem Dunn took 37% of his shots from beyond the arc with St. Francis in his second year, despite connecting on 28% of those shots. He has cut that ratio of shots outside the arc to 27% of his shots, while drawing fouls more often. Faced with a zone, Dunn, Earlington and Rutherford were not compelled to take desperation threes.

It’s hard to say the shot choices were all smart ones, but clearly, the Red Storm did not fall into a finesse trap or a trap of trying to get the points back all at once.

Adjustments. St. John’s, at one point in the first half, looked confused by the Providence zone — long, active hands and a zone that got in the Red Storm’s faces, versus a passive zone.

After a time out, the Red Storm were calm in moving the ball into the middle (generally) and looking for shots in the corner, like Greg Williams shooting a three while set. That bodes somewhat well; the younger players are learning how to react/ technically attack a zone defense.

Clobbered on the glass again. In Big East play, St. John’s is the league’s worst in offensive rebounds allowed and is ninth in offensive rebounds grabbed. The Johnnies also miss a lot of shots, and they are trying to get offensive rebounds — not on every play, but on enough to say that they are trying.

Providence muscled the Red Storm out of the way early and often, grabbing nearly 36% of their own misses. St. John’s rarely got second chance opportunities. For a team that can’t score and is predicated on chaos and athleticism, the sudden change in fortune from “team that gets offensive rebounds” to “team that gets pushed around and never touches offensive rebounds” is concerning.