Fans, observing the Johnnies in warmups, noted a lot of fun athletic dunks. Asking about their concerns, those same fans were impressed by the athletic dunking... but were worried.
An issue with the Johnnies has been their long range shooting and the team did not seem focused. “We have to be ready to play 40 minutes, right from the start,” was a predominant opinion. Another concern expressed was an opinion that sometimes the team forces entry passes that are not really there.
For the second straight game Julian Champagnie, Posh Alexander, Dylan Addae-Wusu, Montez Mathis and Esahia Nyiwe were the starters. The experienced Monmouth Hawks entered the game with a seven-game win streak, the only loss being by two points on opening day to a good Charlotte team. Monmouth was filled with several grad students including Shavar Reynolds, Jr, who transferred from Seton Hall to join the Hawks this year.
Reynolds opened the scoring with a three for the Hawks. Baskets by Addae-Wusu and Mathis, driving into the paint and hitting layups, gave the Red Storm a 4-3 lead. Reynolds, who would eventually lead the Hawks in scoring with 25 points, would hit a second open three for a 6-4 Monmouth lead at the 18-minute mark.
Monmouth big man Walker Miller made a jumper to push the Hawks lead to 8-5. Then the Johnnies initiated a scoring spirt with old fashioned three-point plays on layups and converted free throws, led by Alexander and Mathis. A nice fast break followed with Alexander pushing the ball, hitting Mathis driving to the basket, who fed Stef Smith for an open three and a 14-8 St. John’s lead.
The Red Storm’s backcourt pressure after made baskets intensified, causing some turnovers. But the Johnnies were not converting on the steals. The experienced Hawks took advantage driving down the court in the chaos after a St. John’s miss for open three pointers, particularly by Reynolds, and hung around in the game.
Coach Alexander stayed with his starting five a little longer than in the past with the primary substitution being the “big man” in the frontcourt. By game’s end, Esahia Nyiwe had played 11 minutes, Joel Soriano played 16 and O’Mar Stanley got 14 minutes in. The three big men scored 11 points and took down 10 rebounds in 40 total minutes of play. Soriano had six rebounds; Stanley led bigs with six points.
As the half wore on, the Red Storm tightened their defense, and the Hawks were found rushing three-point attempts and missing. The Johnnies led at the half 42-36.
The Johnnies, attacked the basket and picked up fouls and hit 10/12 free throws, which was the difference in the first half score. The Hawks were 0/3 from the line. The Monmouth three -point shooting, while cooling down near the end of the half, was still at 40% with Reynolds leading the way with 19 points, hitting on 5/6 threes. Shutting down Reynolds would be a chief plan for the Johnnies coming out in the second half.
Champagnie, as has often been the case this year, started slow with five first half points. Alexander was leading the way with 12 points, posting up, taking entry passes, and quickly spinning in the lane for acrobatic finishes.
Mathis was assigned to slow Reynolds down with the assistance of Alexander. The pair held him to six points and no three pointers in the second half.
By the media timeout at the 15:26 mark the lead had ballooned to 11 at 50-39. During the timeout a fan whispered, “How does Posh do it? No matter where he is near the basket he manages to score or get fouled?” Alexander even tapped in a Champagnie miss.
After the timeout Monmouth went to a zone defense, attempting to pressure the Johnnies. It was not successful as it opened the floor for the Johnnies. Champagnie came alive with nine points scored in a three-minute period.
After another TV timeout fans wondered if the Hawks would stay in the zone defense. They did and now it was Stef Smith’s turn to dismantle it. He hit two 20 footers from the left wing in less than a minute then drove down the lane for a layup. The Johnnies led by 12 with eight minutes to play.
The Johnnies got a little sloppy. And Reynolds and teammates were not done.
Although leading by eight with 1:22 to play, Johnnies fans were restless. A three by Miller, followed by George Pappas making three foul shots, found the Red Storm up by two with 53 seconds to play. But Addae-Wusu and Alexander stepped up, scoring five points between them, leading to a five point victory, 88-83.
Alexander made a typical Alexander play with eight seconds to play.
After a missed free throw by Wusu, Marcus McClary of Monmouth took down the rebound, only to be stripped by Alexander, who knocked the ball off his leg out of bounds. With the Red Storm up by three, Alexander took the inbounds pass and was fouled driving to the basket. He calmly hit two free throws to seal the victory.
Balanced Scoring…Posh Alexander Leads the Way
Looking at the scoring balance in the final statistics posted on the scoreboard, a longtime Johnnies fan who played collegiate ball in the Fifties, stated “that’s the way we win games.” Five players were in double figures, starting with Alexander with 21 points, Champagnie with 16, Mathis with 14 , Smith with 13 and Addae-Wusu with 11 points. The Johnnies finished with 33% shooting from deep behind Smith’s 3/4 on threes.
The Johnnies assist ratio was 19 assists on 32 made field goals, with Addae-Wusu leading the way with seven assists and Champagnie and Mathis with five each.
Hopefully, players like Smith, Addae-Wusu and Mathis can keep up this production taking some pressure off Alexander and Champagnie as the schedule becomes more challenging.
Who is the Frontcourt “Big Man”?
Nyiwe got the start and reports are that his efforts in practice had earned him the opportunity. He played efficiently at the beginning but at the 15- minute mark Soriano entered the game. He played the most minutes but, at crunch time with Monmouth closing the gap, Coach Anderson went to freshman, O’mar Stanley. Stanley led the frontcourt players with six points and made some nice defensive plays but did miss two critical free throws with three minutes to play that opened the door to the Monmouth run at the end of the game.
The Johnnies lost the rebounding battle, 43-36. At halftime each team had 20 rebounds. Adjustments at the half found the Johnnies defense cutting down on the Hawks three-point shooting but giving up more offensive rebounds to the Hawks.
Someone in the frontcourt needs to step up to rebound. Half of the team’s rebounds in the game came from the three starting guards- Alexander, Mathis and Addae-Wusu. Each of the frontcourt players has had moments of excellence this year but each has had moments of ineffectiveness. At this point of the season, the freshman Stanley seems to have the greatest potential.
Cut Back on Turnovers
The Johnnies had a respectable 12 turnovers for the game.
Many continue to be unforced. Intercepted cross court passes on offense continue to occasionally occur. The aggressive nature of the team would predicate turnovers and Posh Alexander has been a culprit in past games. This evening Alexander had only one turnover and no one on the Johnnies had more than two.
The Johnnies handled the Monmouth zone very efficiently finding Champagnie and Smith open several times for threes. They converted and Monmouth came out of the zone after a few minutes. Smith shooting over the zone was particularly encouraging as a long range shooter is something the team has demonstrated a need for.
The team is still finding itself and Coach Anderson is still establishing a rotation. The core of Alexander, Champagnie, Mathis and Addae-Wusu seems established and Smith appears to be a sparkplug, long range shooter, off the bench.
The frontcourt is less established. Interestingly, veterans Aaron Wheeler and Tareq Coburn did not play while freshmen, O’mar Stanley and Rafael Pinzon did.
The Johnnies also had multiple players scoring in double figures in the Fordham victory on December 5th. Can the team keep up the balanced scoring?
The team has two more games against credible opponents before opening the Big East schedule away at Seton Hall, a most challenging match up for the Red Storm. One game at a time and, if front court answers are found, fans could have an exciting season ahead.