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Three takeaways from the UConn loss: fight, offense struggles, flux rotation

Close, but four seconds too long, or maybe 1-2 shots short.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

St. John’s fell to UConn last night in a game that, at a different part of the season, could be seen with a glass-half-full perspective.

Maybe it still can be seen that way, despite some frustration from fans about how the game went, the errors and miscues that were the difference in the final outcome. Those errors and miscues loom large as moments, but the fact that the Red Storm managed to fight without folding and push the game into overtime has some “glass half full merit.”

But with a weaker non-conference schedule and weak margins of victory against lower-rated teams in the early part of the season, the critical numbers that help determine NCAA participation are far from where they need to be for an at-large bid.

The Johnnies need big wins, preferably on the road, and they need a few of them. So last night’s opportunity was wasted, despite a strong effort.

Three Takeaways

The Red Storm had a lot of fight.

St. John’s was down by 11 in the second half, which was fortunate given how badly they shot from the field (more on that to come). And yet, in the last four seconds of regulation, the team held on to a lead.

The way the Red Storm fought back did show grit. Watching a team try hard but still be two possessions/ five points down with less than five minutes left has (to me) the air of one of those “we fought” games where the opponent does all the right things to put the game away.

Despite UConn not taking the foot off the gas, the Red Storm inched closer, within two, then back down, and then took the lead on a trifecta of threes from Julian Champagnie, Aaron Wheeler, and Champagnie again. The relentless effort to chase after the ball after offensive misses helped. St. John’s had 21 offensive rebounds, grabbing nearly 40% of their misses against one of the tallest teams in the country.

“They’re not going to let go of the rope,” Coach Mike Anderson said after the game of the Red Storm.

It was a strong fight in regulation. Overtime saw the UConn Huskies play composed ball and score on three layups (out of their four made shots) and free throws. They finished the fight.

The Johnnies also had a lot of misses.

It’s hard to get 21 offensive rebounds (or 78 shots) without a lot of misses. Yes, Adama Sanogo blocked a bunch of shots. But overall, the Red Storm had some real offensive struggles against Connecticut.

Some lowlights include:

  • The discrepancy in fast break points: 22 for the Huskies and four for the Red Storm, who are geared toward runouts and fastbreak points;
  • Posh Alexander, Montez Mathis and Dylan Addae-Wusu’s combined 7/30 from the field (1/8 from beyond the three-point line); and
  • taking 15 more shots (78 to 63) but missing three more than UConn did (30 to 27) from the field

Julian Champagnie had a very good night, bouncing back from a subpar performance in the previous game against Providence. Aaron Wheeler had a solid offensive performance, even in a second-straight game where he fouled out late and was overmatched defending a dominant college big man.

But the team needs more scoring efficiency — somehow.

The team is still coming together, according to Anderson.

“I told them it was the best game we played all year long,” Anderson said after the game. “But we got to have a short term memory... We have to keep believing, keep trusting in one another.”

There are positives to take from the game — the grit to keep going in the face of blocks, a defensive effort that looked more “in tune” as the coach phrased it, even if the defensive efficiency was not where it needs to be to get consecutive stops.

But it is hard to avoid noticing how onetime starter Stef Smith logged single-digit minutes in a game that called for scoring, or how Tareq Coburn has played a total of 14 minutes since the Kansas game, or the two minute stint for Esahia Nyiwe, or that this team has started six different starting lineups.

Meanwhile, O’Mar Stanley has carved himself into a role as a freshman, Montez Mathis is a mainstay, and Joel Soriano gives some good minutes and size inside.

With the new roster, Mike Anderson is sorting out what works and what does not on the court. In a tough league with a lot of experience and talent, the level of cohesiveness to pull out wins will need to be high. Can St. John’s get there, and get enough wins, before the hole is too deep for an NCAA berth?