Facing a late start to the new season, St. John’s did not waste time making a name for themselves with a four scheduled games in week one of a new season. The Johnnies opened with a two game set in the Lapchick Tournament on November 25th and 26th followed by a game at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut against Boston College, on November 30th.
Two days later, after several games were cancelled due to cases of the same virus, the Johnnies stayed at Mohegan Sun to take on the BYU Cougars. All four opponents were ranked in the top 200 by KenPom.com with the Boston College Eagles ranked just behind St. John’s at 78.
The Red Storm took on Saint Peter’s and La Salle without Julian Champagnie; in following games, Champagnie showed how much of a difference-maker he could be. Meanwhile, Rasheem Dunn left during the Saint Peter’s game after falling on the court and suffering a concussion.
Newcomers made some waves while the returnees had varying degrees of success as the Johnnies showed that there is a way to go to become a strong, cohesive unit.
St. John’s/ Saint Peter’s Peacocks
[Game recap, St. John’s 76-75 — rarely comfortable]
Self-inflicted wounds: The turnover battle with Saint Peter’s was even, with each squad registering 17 turnovers. However, it soon became obvious that the St. Peter’s turnovers were the result of Red Storm pressure defense while many of the turnovers committed by the Red Storm were self-inflicted.
Hungry in the post: The Johnnies wanted to feed their bigger front line, but these passes often went astray, even though the Red Storm passer was not pressured. Other Johnnies, while moving the ball around the horn, would pick up their dribble then be forced to make a passive pass with Peacock defenders easily stepping into passing lanes for steals.
Vince Cole made a strong first impression. Fed by teammates for open three-point attempts, Cole was deadly, hitting five out of six.
Posh Alexander also made a strong impression: Alexander was a whirl of energy whenever on the court. His stat line was impressive for his initial game as a Johnnie … 16 points on 5/8 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and five steals. His defense was (somewhat) reminiscent of the pressure defense Nick Rutherford provided a year ago.
Isaih Moore contributed with great energy throughout the game, scoring 12 points and leading the Johnnies with nine rebounds.
The Johnnies shot 84 percent from the foul line and won as a result of hitting 21/25 attempts, while the Peacocks only made 6/12 free throw attempts.
St. John’s/ LaSalle Explorers
[Game recap: St. John’s 82, La Salle 68 — second-half run]
Veterans in action: The veterans on the team accounted for just 15 out of 76 points against St. Peter’s. Led by Greg Williams with 13 points and Marcellus Earlington with 14 points, they stepped up, scoring 31 against La Salle. Williams shined at the beginning of the second half with a do-everything high energy effort.
The defense was effective: The pressure defense held La Salle scoreless for the first three and a half minutes of the game; by game’s end the Johnnies had 16 steals and their pressure defense had led to 26 turnovers for LaSalle.
Cole adjusts: Neither team was effective from three-point distance and Cole, who hit 5/6 threes in the opener, was only converting 1/7 three-point attempts. To Cole’s credit, he recognized, adjusted, and converted his game to one of penetrating for layups and short pull up jumpers; he hit 5/7 and drew several fouls resulting in foul shot opportunities. Once again Cole led the Johnnies with 19 points.
Struggles/ maturity: Posh Alexander and other Johnnies did not handle LaSalle’s second half pressure well after made baskets. The Johnnies committed five turnovers and allowed an 8-0 run by the Explorers. Alexander, quick as he is, sometimes tried to power his way through opponent’s double teams and lost the ball. Experience will help him more quickly recognize when a double team comes and help him identify teammates that are free.
St. John’s/ Boston College Eagles
[Game recap: St. John’s 97, Boston College 93 — Champagnie run]
Champagnie’s return, Posh’s continued emergence: Julian Champagnie led the team with 29 points in his return. Champagnie took down 10 rebounds in addition to the 29 points, many on long jump shots — which opened up the lanes for him to begin attacking the basket later on in the game.
Posh Alexander displayed his ability to hit open jumpers from long range in the first half, a quality that will serve him well to keep defenders from backing off of him to defend his attacks to the basket. Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie were brilliant, scoring 30 points between them in the first half.
Help from all corners: In the second half Greg Williams, Jr. began to assert himself offensively with slashing drives to the basket, drawing fouls and eventually scoring 17 points on 5/6 shooting. Isaih Moore and Vince Cole continued to contribute on the offensive end and Dylan Addae-Wusu, playing 21 minutes with Rasheed Dunn out, scored nine points and had six assists, playing strong defense.
Late errors: The Johnnies led by 10 and had the ball with two minutes to play. Three turnovers in the next minute led to a 7-0 Eagles run and the once insurmountable lead was at great risk. Greg Williams, Jr. hit four out of six free throws in the final minute, but the game was still up in the air until Champagnie blocked a shot from Wynston Tabbs with 12 seconds to go.
The mental errors so clear at the end of the game can be addressed in practice. Knowing what to do to free a teammate to receive a pass when full court pressure is applied will be one of the first items for coaching staff to address.
St. John’s / BYU
[Game recap: BYU 74, St. John’s 68; BYU plays smart floor game]
Size factor: The Red Storm were outrebounded by a taller Cougar team by nine, 44-35, giving up 11 offensive rebounds to a team that missed fewer shots. The rebounding leader for the game was 6’0” Posh Alexander with six. Forward Julian Champagnie and guard Greg Williams had the second most with five each. Moore, Earlington, Roberts and Toro had six between them. The turnover margin, in St. John’s favor, was undone by the rebounding margin.
Shooting woes: BYU hit on 37 % of their three-point shots to the Johnnies 19% — and took six more shots from deep. The Cougars were effective on getting out on shooters, making them dribble into long two-pointers.
Shot choices: Johnnies forward Isaih Moore hit an early three pointer and the forwards subsequently shot and missed four straight long range shots. The first layup by the team came at the 4:54 of the half by Champagnie. The Red Storm were kept from the paint all game, and the pull up jump shots were not falling; Rasheem Dunn was missed.
The Johnnies did impress with victories over Saint Peter’s and La Salle; the game against Boston College revealed the potential of the team and the work that needs to be done.
Game four against BYU was frustrating as, despite the effort, the Johnnies missed a clear opportunity at the end to complete a comeback by not boxing out and letting an opponent take down an offensive rebound with the game on the line. The shot selection, particularly in the first half doomed the team.
The team played solid basketball together and integrated Champagnie into the lineup after he missed the first two games.
There are two games for tune ups before the Big East season arrives. The Red Storm plays Stony Brook (KenPom ranking 251) on December 6th and Rider on December 8th (KenPom ranking 284). Then a challenging Big East opener at Connecticut is scheduled for December 11th. Connecticut is 2-0 at present and is ranked 53 on KenPom.
The Stony Brook and Rider games cannot be overlooked. Hopefully, Rasheem Dunn will be available to join the team and be available to provide senior leadership to a mostly undergraduate team.
The role of the frontcourt needs to be established. Champagnie appears to be a reliable scorer and an able rebounder as a wing forward. Moore has demonstrated enough moments of being a contributor that he can be expected to improve. But Roberts, Earlington, David Caraher and Arnoldo Toro need to show consistent skills; Roberts and Toro have shown defensive strengths, at least.
The passing has improved in each game, though against BYU the offense was stagnant at times.
The guards have provided the most hope for the team. Posh Alexander provides grit and energy and, against Boston College, showed an ability to hit the long jumper when open. Greg Williams seems to improve each game and was the only Johnnie guard able to attack the Cougar defense with some success. What has been missing so far this season in Williams game is his ability to hit the long range jumper, particularly from the corners, that was evident at the end of last season.
Dylan Addae-Wasu has impressed during the moments he has entered the game. He plays tenacious defense and has demonstrated an ability to hit a three when open. As a freshman it is anticipated that his game will improve with experience as the season moves forward.
John McGriff has not seen many minutes but has made the most of his opportunities.
Integrating Rasheem Dunn into the lineup when he returns from his concussion protocol will provide an experienced ball handler to assist on the late-game pressure situations. In several games the team’s ball handlers had trouble recognizing when a pressure defense is coming. Dunn also is excellent at breaking defenses down on drives to the basket and, even if missing, drawing fouls.
So it has to be one game at a time for this relatively inexperienced team. The potential is there, and rough edges can be smoothed. Every game will be a test.