At the pregame gathering, St. John’s alumni expressed reserved hope for the St. John’s game — a chance for revenge, a matchup against an opponent that had also struggled with the rest of the league, the archrival Georgetown Hoyas
“We have to stop shooting so many threes” and “It is time for LJ Figueroa to step up” were comments heard.
This was a game that seemed ripe for the taking, with a Hoya team missing a number of rotation members after a transfer and a pair of legal incidents in the fall removed four players.
The significant height differential favored the Hoyas, particularly in the form of seven-footer, Omar Yurtseven.
The Johnnies appeared ready to throw him off, the Hoyas’ clearest threat.
Yurtseven missed a jumper and Josh Roberts took down the rebound. The Johnnies pushed the ball and Rasheem Dunn hit a cutting Champagnie, who hit a jumper in the paint for a 2-0 lead. Three more minutes passed before Champagnie tipped in a Dunn miss to extend the lead to 4-0 — a slow start.
A three by Georgetown’s Jahvon Blair, who would finish the game with 23 points, tied the score at seven with 14:34 to play. He then gave the Hoyas their first lead with a second three a minute later. Terrell Allen hit a layup to extend the lead to five at 12-7.
David Caraher then hit a jumper at 11:56 and followed with a second jumper to bring the Red Storm within one with 11:17 to play in the half.
At this point of the game the Red Storm had not gone to a full court press and there were no fast break points.
Mustapha Heron, who entered the game at 15:54, had a difficult start. He tried driving into the tall Hoya front court. only to have his drive blocked. A short time later, with the 30 second clock running down, he drove to the top of the key and attempted a jumper only to have that rejected by Jamorko Pickett.
Heron finally scored halfway into the half, hitting a three from the left wing to tie the score at 14.
A minute later Nick Rutherford drove into the paint and pitched back to Heron for an open three from the top of the key and a 17 to 14 Johnnies lead.
Two more threes put the Hoyas again in front 20-17. A seesaw battle was coming between two evenly matched teams — except for the Yurtseven factor, whose height was allowing him to reach over Johnnies, who were boxing him out, for offensive rebounds.
But the Johnnies were holding their own and forcing him into difficult shots. After scoring the Hoyas first basket, he had not scored since.
A Dunn drive and a pass to LJ Figueroa on the left resulted in a Figueroa three and a 22-20 Johnnies lead at 8:08. The Johnnies went into a pressure defense for the first time in the game and, during the next three minutes, steals by Figueroa, Williams and Champagnie led to an 11-2 run, featuring five points by Marcellus Earlington. The Johnnies up 33-22 with 4:27 to play.
The Hoyas closed to within seven with 4.4 seconds left in the half. Then Dunn took an inbounds pass, sprinted down the court to the foul line, where he hit a jumper for a comfortable nine-point lead at the half, 38-29.
In the first half the Red Storm had forced seven Hoya turnovers and had committed none when on the offensive. However, the Hoyas had taken down nine offensive rebounds and the Johnnies only one. The game was playing out as anticipated.
The starting five of Figueroa, Dunn, Roberts, Williams and Champagnie also started the second half. Georgetown began the second half in a zone and the Johnnies responded by having Champagnie set up at the top of the key, an open spot in the Hoya zone. It worked. Figueroa hit Champagnie for an open jumper, which extended the lead to 11 points.
The teams traded baskets for three minutes until Williams stole the ball and hit a driving Champagnie, who was fouled and hit both of his foul shots. Champagnie tipped in a Figueroa miss and the Johnnies were up 46-33. A minute later Figueroa stole the ball and missed a driving layup only to have Roberts take down the rebound and dunk the ball. The Johnnies were up 50-33 and it was looking like the Red Storm were ready to start the month of February positively.
The Hoyas called timeout at the 16 minute mark of the half and, coming out of the timeout, the game began to quickly change.
The Hoyas went into their own zone pressure with four guards pressing the Johnnies in their back court. The Johnnies, who had no turnovers in the first half, struggled, mostly making sloppy passes under pressure.
Hoya steals led to easy layups and often frustrated Johnnies committed fouls on the layups leading to “old-fashioned” three-pointers. In less than two minutes a 10-2 Hoya run dropped the Johnnies lead to nine with 14 minutes to play.
Rutherford entered the game and the Johnnies beat the full court press with Rutherford feeding Heron for a three from the corner and the lead was back up to twelve. Heron hit another three to counter continued Hoya pressure and the Johnnies were up by thirteen with twelve minutes to play.
The lead fluctuated between eight and 13 for the next two minutes when a key sequence occurred. With the Johnnies up by 10, Greg Williams, Jr. aggressively drove down the left of the paint. Fans, who had been looking for Williams to be more assertive, yelled out “Way to go, Greg.”
He was fouled but was only given a one and one shot. He missed the front end, the only Johnnies miss on the day. In less than a minute after his miss, there were two Hoya foul shots, a Heron miss, a Yurtseven layup, a Red Storm turnover and a Blair layup, and the lead was down to four with still nine minutes to play.
At 6:33, a Yurtseven dunk tied the score at 64. But the Johnnies were not going away. Two Dunn free throws and a Champagnie layup put the Johnnies back on top by four 68-64. Twenty seconds, later a Mosely three assisted by Yurkseven brought the lead to a single digit. The Johnnies kept extending the lead and the Hoyas kept fighting back.
With 50 seconds left the Johnnies had the ball and a one-point lead. Rasheem Dunn broke the Hoya press then dribbled out near midcourt taking twenty seconds off the clock. He attacked the basket missing the rim and, as Champagnie was fighting for the rebound, which was bouncing on the ground, the 30 second shot clock ran out.
The Red Storm went to trap the inbounds pass and were almost successful. The Hoyas almost through the ball away out of the trap but, being successful, they were easily able to feed Yurtseven, who was one on one under the basket, hitting a layup with ten seconds to play. It was the first Hoya lead since midway in the first half.
Johnnies fans, remembering Dunn’s scramble to score with four seconds left at the end of the first half, were heard calling for a repeat as the Johnnies called time out. It was almost… but not to be. Dunn curled along the baseline to take the inbounds pass, sprinted down the right side to the front court with time to spare.
Dunn dribbled the ball off of his leg. The Hoyas recovered the ball and a somber Johnnies crowd left, having observed another last-minute loss when the Johnnies gave up a lead near the end of the game.
The starting lineup
The Red Storm opened the game and the second half with Figueroa, Dunn, Roberts, Champagnie and Williams in the lineup. The two seniors, Heron and Rutherford, came off the bench. It almost worked as Heron provided an offensive spark in both halves, when teammates were struggling.
Champagnie was very impressive. He provided a force on the offensive end, particularly when taking passes at the top of the point to counter the Hoya’s zone. Attacking a zone has been a weak part of the Red Storm offense.
In addition, he led the team in rebounds with ten and somewhat neutralized Yurtseven though giving away several inches early on. He finished with 14 points on an impressive 6/10 from the field. It looks like he will have an important role to play, particularly when opponents go into zone defenses that often leave the area at the top of the key uncovered.
Dunn played 35 minutes and Williams was second on the team in playing time with 33 minutes. Dunn, hitting 5/13, led the team, along with Heron, with 16 points. He had four rebounds and three assists. However, he also led the team with four turnovers.
Williams played his usual stellar defensive game but was tentative on offense, scoring just four points.
Once again Josh Roberts started both halves but was on the court for only 11 minutes, leaving much of the responsibility to guarding Yurtseven to Champagnie and Marcellus Earlington. Yurtseven, who had only three points in the first half, ended the game with 13 points and 15 rebounds.
The new lineup worked at first but the use of Roberts for such a short period of time for the second game in a row remains mysterious.
Live by the press but die by the press
Remember the Seton Hall game? With St. John’s leading at the half by 13. the Pirates came out in a press as the second half began and the Red Storm wilted under the pressure. The Georgetown game was almost a repeat performance.
In both games it was sloppy passing after a successful inbounds pass. Against Georgetown the team had no turnovers in the first half but committed 12 turnovers in the second half, leading to Georgetown scores.
Equally of concern is the fact that there were times the Johnnies broke through the Hoya press and had two on one and even once a three on one advantage. Instead of attacking the basket, they pulled the ball out to slow down the game, allowing Hoya defenders to regroup.
With the next game on Saturday, February 8th, the Johnnies have time to work out the responsibilities of each player on the court when countering pressure. There are too many athletic and quick players on the team to allow opponents’ pressure defense to be this successful.
Passiveness on offense
The Johnnies have, at times over the season and again against Georgetown, stopped playing aggressively as they try to “milk the clock” with a lead late in games. Against Georgetown there were elements of passiveness with 10 minutes to play that resulted in several 30-second shot clock violations.
The passiveness contributed to the 12 turnovers in the second half and, at times, took them out of advantageous opportunities when they did break the Hoya press. Lastly, it took them out of a better shot opportunity with the game on the line, having the ball and the lead with 50 seconds to play.
The team is now 2-8 in league play. The question is: are they improving?
Some players — Dunn and Champagnie have stepped up in recent games. Most are treading water.
The best projection is that there were four losses that were clearly winnable games. Does that mean the Johnnies will make the little changes needed to turn defeats into victories?
A difficult game ahead at Creighton and a winnable game at Carnesecca Arena against Providence are the next two opportunities to correct what needs correction. There are five practice days to accomplish these improvements.