Final: St. John’s 82, Colgate 64
A quiet was evident from the Sunday morning crowd at the beginning of the game. Wins against Fordham and particularly Monmouth had been encouraging... but this was the Colgate Raiders, the dismantler of Syracuse at the Carrier Dome earlier this year. A team with lethal three-point shooters. Fans, though confident, were holding a wait and see attitude.
After a scoreless first minute the crowd erupted in cheers as Posh Alexander hit a jumper for a 2-0 lead. After the Raiders tied the game, a three by Julian Champagne suggested the Johnnies were on their way to a good start two minutes into the game.
With the score tied at six, the Johnnies, despite appearing to be playing inspired defense, allowed senior guard Jack Ferguson to find two openings in the course of a minute and a half and suddenly were behind 12-6 with 14 minutes left in the half.
Alexander hit a reverse layup to tighten the score. Then he took down an offensive rebound off a Stef Smith miss, fed freshman Raphael Pinzon, who hit a jumper to drop the Raider lead to 12-11. A three-pointer by the Raiders lengthened their lead to four at the 12:40 mark. Then the freshman Pinzon struck again with a 14-footer from the right wing. The Colgate lead was down to two at 15-13.
The Johnnies brought in a group of bench players to take over. Joining Smith and Pinzon were Aaron Wheeler, Joel Soriano and one lone starter, Dylan Addae-Wusu. A Smith block then a Smith steal, combined with Addae-Wusu taking a charge for an offensive foul on the Raiders, was part of a 9-0 run over a two minute period. Suddenly, the Johnnies were up 22-15 with 9:51 to play.
After another Ferguson three, the Johnnies went on a 7-0 run featuring two baskets by O’Mar Stanley and a three by Wheeler. The second team was contributing both on defense and on offense, with Wheeler leading the way with seven points. This appeared to be the Wheeler fans had expected when he signed with the Johnnies.
Colgate went into a zone, but the Johnnies broke it down as Montez Mathis fed Alexander for an easy layup and a 35-21 lead. The Johnnies seemed to be clicking.
However, with Ferguson shooting and hitting, and with help from Colgate forward and teammate Keegan Records, the Raiders kept the game within reach. But Champagne matched Ferguson, hitting a trio of threes himself; the Johnnies led at the half 46-35.
A seasoned fan shared two impressions of what the Red Storm players needed to do in the second half. First, they needed to be prepared at the onset of the half to play smart defense and protect their lead.
In addition, the Johnnies also needed to focus on Wheeler and give him a chance to contribute. As one fan put it: “Soriano is not giving us what we thought we were going to get from him, so we need Wheeler to continue to play well.”
Champagnie, Alexander, Addae-Wusu, Nyiwe and Mathis started. On their first offensive possession the Red Storm went to Champagnie low in the box. His spin move resulted in a foul. It also served the purpose of letting the Raiders know that they would have to contend with Johnnies attacking them down deep.
After trading baskets with the Raiders in the first 50 seconds of the half, the Johnnies went on a 7-0 run. By 15:39 of the half the Red Storm had increased their lead to 55-38.
Colgate went back to the zone defense. Temporarily it worked as Wheeler, who on two occasions, shot open threes and missed them. However, Pinzon, in his best game of his young career, came to the rescue.
Taking an outlet pass from Champagnie, Pinzon drove down the left side of the paint. When Alexander broke free on the right side, Pinzon hit him with a perfect pass for a layup and a 59-41 lead. The Johnnies were in charge, leading by eighteen. Pinzon went on to score 14 points in the game.
The closest Colgate came was 16 points as the Johnnies, playing two inspired halves, won 82-64.
Once Again, Balanced Scoring
Once again, Champagnie with 19 points and Alexander with 15 points led the way. Champagnie accumulated his points in a season-low number of minutes, 26, for a game. Stepping up was freshman Pinzon with 14 points on 6/8 shooting in 17 minutes of play. Addae-Wusu had 10 points, Smith and Wheeler, seven, and Stanley six on 3/4 shooting.
The Johnnies converted 40% of their three-point attempts with Champagnie leading the way, hitting 5/7.
Eighteen assists were recorded on 35 shots. The Johnnies moved the ball efficiently up the court regardless of what defensive strategy Colgate deployed.
Although the Johnnies were aggressive in attacking the basket, they only recorded five free throw attempts, making two.
Overall, an impressive offensive showing.
Johnnies win the Intangibles
What truly stood out was the observation that the Red Storm beat the Raiders to loose balls throughout the game. This was not the case in earlier games.
Was it because the Johnnies were simply a quicker team than the Raiders or was it because they were more disciplined on defense than in the past?
Yes, the Raiders hit 13 three pointers on 35 attempts with Ferguson being the chief scorer, hitting 7/14. Five of his six threes came in the first half; the Johnnies kept him under control after halftime.
It is also noteworthy that the Johnnies had 10 steals in the game compared to three for Colgate.
The Johnnies only had six turnovers for the game, a continued improvement compared to earlier in the season.
The Red Storm clearly played a heady, controlled game.
Let’s Talk About the Front Court
Four players are now competing for playing time alongside of Champagnie in the front court. At times two may have to play when Champagnie rests.
Nyiwe started both halves but only played for a total of eight minutes with no statistical highlights.
Stanley and Wheeler both played 16 minutes and produced.
Freshman O’Mar Stanley had six points and took down five rebounds. Grad student Aaron Wheeler, had seven points, took down three rebounds, had two assists and played some inspired defense. Joel Soriano, who began the year as the starter, continued to struggle. While taking down seven rebounds and blocking a shot, Soriano went 0/4 on offense, despite receiving passes from teammates in the paint.
Each game someone different seems to stand out. This time it was Aaron Wheeler, with a second to O’Mar Stanley. Does Coach Alexander feature the experienced grad student or the constantly improving freshman? Or does he stick with the hard working Nyiwe? Or does he give Soriano, who was effective earlier in the season, a chance to get in rhythm?
What do you think?
Fans appeared pleased with the Johnnies performance today. Most impressive — the team did not relax and let an opponent they had been dominating back into the game.
Halftime adjustments cut back on the performance of an opponent who had torched the defense in the first half of the game. In this game, the Raiders’ Jack Ferguson scored 15 points on 5/8 shooting in the first half. In the second half he went 3/7 and scored eight points.
Champagnie seemed to find his three-point shot. Alexander displayed quick aggressive hands and Addae-Wusu continued to attack the basket, but less recklessly. Six turnovers for the team indicated the team played more under control. Was this a true step forward today? Or was Colgate simply a good match-up for the athletic Red Storm?
There is one more game to fine tune what appears to be an improving offense, featuring a reduced number of turnovers in each game. The defense seems more focused but there still were times three or four Johnnie defenders were collapsing on one Raider player with the ball. Sometimes multiple defenders forced a turnover. Other times an outlet pass found an opponent wide open for an uncontested shot. There is work still to be done but improvement is noted.
If similar improvement continues, there is a bright future for this year’s group of Johnnies. But do not look past Pittsburgh to the Big East schedule. Pittsburgh has struggled this year but has played more competitively recently. The Johnnies must come focused, on both offense and defense. One game at a time.