He’s the guy in the Red Suit and everyone knows him. On the way in, Billy Rabold waved and predicted, “it will be a good day.”
Not all St. John’s fans were as certain. One season ticket holder commented, “I just don’t know what to think about this team. We have to straighten out our rotations. Sometimes there are five guys on the court, none of whom can shoot. We need to ‘roll the dice’ with Stef Smith. Get him back on track.”
A second fan stated “I can’t figure out Addae-Wusu? Some days he is reliable from out deep. Other times his game is to put his head down and attack and, if it’s a good ‘d’ he is attacking, he finds himself in deep, surrounded by opponents, with nowhere to go”.
Red Storm fans hoped Billy Rabold’s prediction is accurate.
The first half began positively for the Red Storm. Six-foot eleven inch Joel Soriano cleanly won the opening tap from seven-footer Timothy Ighoefu of the Georgetown Hoyas. Twenty seconds later, Montez Mathis cut across the lane from right to left, took a pass, and nailed an eight-foot jumper for a 2-0 lead. A short time later Soriano followed up, converting after a nice assist from Dylan Addae-Wusu, for a layup and a 4-0 lead. It was a promising start.
In pregame warmups Julian Champagne seemed to be on target with his three-point shot but, this game would be different. At the 18:12 mark on an inbounds play from under the basket Addae-Wusu found Champagnie cutting towards the rim. He hit him with a nice pass and, although missing the layup, Champagnie was fouled. It was the first of many aggressive moves attacking the basket for the Big East’s leading scorer.
At the 17 minute mark of the half, a Soriano offensive rebound led to an open three by Addae-Wusu and an 8-5 St. John’s lead.
The Johnnies were active in their all-court press after made baskets right from the beginning of the game. It was having an impact — not necessarily in steals but slowing Georgetown down.
At the 12:20 mark of the half Posh Alexander drove hard to the basket. Hoya defenders closed to stop his drive. Instead of forcing a shot, Alexander hit a wide-open Addae-Wusu in the corner for an open three and a 21-15 Johnnies lead. It was the beginning of an 8-0 run over the next three minutes.
It was not only the Johnnies defense in the first half that was a catalyst for success, it was their ability to share the ball. At halftime, St. Johns had assisted on 10 of 14 made baskets and had seven steals to two for Georgetown. They led 43-32.
The make the half sweeter, the young man in the Red Suit, Billy Rabold was awarded a well deserved basketball for being not only a ten year season ticket holder but an enthusiastic fan, always leading the student section in cheering for the Johnnies.
Posh Alexander’s half time statistics showed the balance in his game: eight points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals. The fan who had his doubts prior to the game, gave a thumbs up during the half. Could the team continue its impressive performance, particularly on defense?
As has happened too often this season, Soriano picked up his fourth foul at the 18:45 mark of the second half.
Johnnies’ fans were concerned.
But this evening the loss of Soriano was not to be consequential. Freshman O’Mar Stanley and grad student Aaron Wheeler picked up the slack.
Stanley took down three rebounds, had a block and a steal but, more importantly, played his position and kept the tall frontline of the Hoyas, who had dominated the boards for portions of the first half, away from the backboard while he was on the court. Stanley demonstrated a consistent energy throughout his 18 minutes of play.
Aaron Wheeler did not have his long range shooting stoke this game. Nevertheless, he had 10 points mostly on drives to the basket.
Stef Smith made the most of his time while on the court. He hit two out of three three-pointers but was saddled with three fouls in his twelve minutes of play. With an assist and two rebounds, Smith made a contribution.
Julian Champagnie was making three point plays the old-fashioned way on drives to the basket with pull up shots and drawing fouls. In one nice sequence with 17:20 to play Alexander intercepted a Hoya pass, tipping the ball to Addae-Wusu who fed Champagne for a layup and was fouled. After hitting the foul shot, the Johnnies were up by 16, 54-38.
After a Addae-Wusu three, assisted by Alexander, the Johnnies went up by 20, 63-43. Georgetown called timeout.
When they returned to play the Johnnies had four second-teamers plus Addae-Wusu on the court. Despite a Wheeler layup and another Addae-Wusu three the Hoyas made a run and, at the nine minute to play mark, the Hoyas had closed the gap to seven, 68-61. Alexander and Champagnie returned to the game.
Alexander was fouled on a drive and hit two for two for a nine point lead. The Johnnies then discontinued the full court press, dropping back and picking up the Hoyas the minute they crossed the half court line. The Hoya run was over. No more open threes in the corner for Hoya sharpshooters. The Hoyas, who made nine three pointers for the game, did not make a three after the press was dropped with 7:20 to play.
“St. Johns is Number Zero’s Team”
Posh Alexander’s jersey number is Zero. It was a number which stood out for a scout of the Dallas Mavericks at the game, who chatted with me. His comment was that Julian Champagnie may be the top scorer for the Johnnies, but to him “St. John’s is #0’s team”.
He was here to see Champagnie, and noted that Champagnie was not shooting from deep this game. The Dallas scout commented, “His game is a layup game”. Today it was. Wisely passing up long range shots for aggressive drives, Champagnie often drew fouls, converting on seven of nine free throws, on the way to a 25-point effort.
But this was truly Posh Alexander’s day. Alexander scored 17 points. Included in this effort were nine of 10 free throws, reversing his recent struggles from the charity line. In addition, Alexander had six rebounds, seven assists and six steals. He was “all over the place,” setting the tone for the Red Storm.
The Dallas scout also stated he was impressed by the play of Dylan Addae-Wusu and Montez Mathis. Addae-Wusu impressed with his four for five shooting from out deep.
Led by Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu, with seven assists each, the Johnnies registered 22 assists on 30 made baskets, a 73% rate. Over the season this rate has been 64%, which is healthy, but today was clearly better.
Guards Smith and Addae-Wusu benefited as teammates attacked the basket and kicked the ball out to them for open three-pointers which they converted shooting six for eight from out deep. Without a big who consistently scores, the importance of converting three-pointers is critical for the Johnnies success.
The Johnnies also limited their turnovers to 10 for the game while pressuring Georgetown into 21 turnovers. It was crisp ball handling for the team throughout the game.
There was a brief period in the first half when the Hoyas, led by freshman Aminu Mohammed and Timothy Ighoefe, were relentless on the offensive boards. When the Hoyas were able to get the ball in deep, they attacked with not only the teammate with the ball but their other “bigs” ready to clean up.
The Hoyas pulled down 5 offensive rebounds in the first seven minutes of the game. St. John’s made adjustments and the Hoyas were limited to 13 offensive rebounds in the final 33 minutes.
St. Johns pressure led to 21 Hoya turnovers. Many were passes that were careless due to Red Storm pressure as the Hoyas moved across mid court.
The Johnnies would often pressure the Hoyas in the back court. This would not result in a back court steal, but the Hoyas would not even begin their offensive set until the shot clock read 19-20 seconds to shoot, particularly in the first half.
St. John’s guards would continue to pressure Hoya guards, even after they crossed the mid court, causing them to give the ball up. Georgetown would now had 13-14 seconds to shoot. The Hoyas sometimes would pass the ball inside to attack the rim. But St. John’s defenders were mostly holding their ground, forcing a pass back out to teammates now with 5-6 seconds to make a play.
So much of the middle of the first half went. If it wasn’t a 30 second violation, it was a wild shot from 25-30 feet away that had little chance of success. This sequence took the Hoyas out of the attacking offense that dominated the beginning of the half.
Lastly, the Johnnies had three blocked shots to one for the Hoyas, even with Joel Soriano limited to 10 minutes of play due to foul trouble. Overall, it was an impressive defensive effort.
The Hoyas were missing some top players, so the ease of this Johnnies victory needs to be kept in perspective. Nevertheless, this is a Big East win. The Hoyas had some good shooting guards and one of the top freshmen in the league in Aminu Mohammed. They play an attacking game, and the Johnnies were able to play an aggressive defense that for the most part did not allow an abundance of open three pointers and easy layups.
The team is getting meaningful bench support from Wheeler, Smith and Stanley.
Is this enough to build on and start a run of victories?
The road ahead with five challenging games in two weeks is not an easy one, but it is also one that provides opportunity. Will the team take advantage?
On to an away game with Creighton with a hope that the minor injury Posh Alexander suffered towards the end of the game is truly minor.
A road win at Creighton and a split with Seton Hall is not an impossible task.