After the frustrating loss to Seton Hall on January 22, when the Johnnies missed an excessive number of layups, Coach Anderson concluded “I thought we should be further along than we’re at right now. I really do. It’s late January… I’ve just got to find the right combination.”
The combination in the recent past has been a starting group of Joel Soriano, Julian Champagne, Posh Alexander, Montez Mathis and Dylan Addae-Wusu with Aaron Wheeler deservedly getting key minutes off the bench.
But the league had the Red Storm figured out.
Champagnie has been drawing the top defender on opponents, who has been tracking him wherever he is on the court. Opponents with a strong frontcourt are keeping a big waiting under the basket as Joel Soriano, the Johnnies center, has not been an offensive force except for an occasional dunk; opponents have not been concerned about him as a threat, instead waiting for a driving guard.
Addae-Wusu has been a streaky shooter, who does his best when open on a feed from his teammates. When Champagnie is drawing the defensive attention from opponents, Addae-Wusu has found his opportunities and has been making threes at a 40% clip. Wheeler has also been shooting as well from outside the arc.
At the beginning of the season, the team’s best non-Champagnie shooters appeared to be Stef Smith and Tareq Coburn. Both have seen fewer minutes. Smith saw 10 minutes and made some plays, and Coburn saw a couple of minutes on the floor.
Meanwhile, the Red Storm were unable to get threes to drop in a six-point loss, and were badly outrebounded by Seton Hall.
So for Monday’s game, Coach Anderson replaced Posh Alexander with Aaron Wheeler in the starting lineup. Posh would not stay on the bench for long.
Full court pressure with a double team trap in the backcourt was the instituted game plan. It worked. Johnnies’ defenders knew their role and the open drives to the basket by the Pirates, so plentiful at the Garden just two days earlier, were not to be this day.
Coach Anderson substituted freely, keeping fresh players for the constant defensive pressure. The Johnnies began an impressive run, initiated by a wide open Esahia Nyiwe, who hit a three from the top of the key. The Johnnies were up 16-10. O’Mar Stanley took down an offensive rebound and laid the ball in extending the lead to 18-10.
Even though Julian Champagnie was not scoring, he contributed on the boards and with his passing. Despite the Pirates cutting the deficit to nine at points, the Red Storm kept pressing and racing, and came away with the big road win over Seton Hall, 84-63.
A tale of two days
On January 22, the Johnnies made five out of 35 layup attempts (20%). On January 24 the Red Storm, when the layups were defended, kicked the ball out and teammates made 42% of their three-point attempts even when Julian Champagnie was struggling.
On Saturday, the Johnnies took down 43 rebounds to the Hall’s 60.
On Monday, the Red Storm had 49 rebounds to the Hall’s 43.
What made the difference? Several of the tall frontline for Seton Hall were unable to function in the uptempo game forced on Seton Hall by the Johnnies pressure. Obiagu played 14 minutes and Yetna only 16 minutes. The Hall’s leading rebounder was Rhoden, who played valiantly, taking down 12 rebounds.
The Red Storm were led by Wheeler with 10 rebounds, Soriano and Champagnie with eight and Alexander with seven, a true team effort.
The Johnnies blocked 11 Pirate shots while Seton Hall only blocked three shots by the Red Storm. St. John’s had 20 assists in the game to 10 for Seton Hall.
The conclusion is clear. The Red Storm was prepared for this game and adjustments — that neutralized the Pirate size — made by the coaching staff were bought into by the players.
Johnnies can win when Champagnie is off
The formula for the Red Storm this year has been that the Johnnies need a big scoring game from Champagnie to win.
Champagnie scored five points in the second game. Six teammates scored more, and the Johnnies still beat a division rival, with an impressive resume, by 21 points.
Yes, Champagnie only made two out of 10 shots. He knew that his shooting was not in rhythm as in the past. He still logged in 32 minutes of playing time, more than any of his teammates. In those 32 minutes he took down eight rebounds, had five assists, had three steals and blocked four shots, an effort worth noting.
The team scoring was distributed fairly evenly — Posh Alexander had 19 points and Aaron Wheeler added 17 to lead the way. Joel Soriano made baskets in the post, including a hook shot that will draw attention. It can be an offensive weapon for the Johnnies if he continues to make the shot consistently.
Tareq Coburn hit three three pointers, playing 15 minutes. He came to St. John’s with a reputation for being an accurate shooter from distance. Was this game an awakening?
The press is back
In several games against quality opponents, the pressing defense seemed more of a liability than an asset. For every turnover created opponents were breaking free and having two on one or three on two attacks at the Johnnies basket.
Some teams, such as Creighton, found Red Storm defenders scrambling to identify who their assignment was after the pressure was broken. This resulted in several wide open three-point attempts by Creighton sharpshooters, a large percentage of which were successful.
What was different on January 24th?
The Johnnies started the game with full court trapping pressure. While the Pirates were often able to break through it, they struggled. This was not simply beating a defender one on one. More often than not there were two or more passes by Seton Hall in the back court in order to avoid the 10-second back court infraction.
The Johnnies defense seemed more disciplined, and the defenders’ roles were clear. Even when Seton Hall was able to pass out of the two person trap, there was a Johnny defender contesting the Pirate receiving the pass, creating confusion.
When the press is working – similar to the Georgetown game — the goal is not simply a steal but the opponents being forced to take rushed, forced shots. The Pirates only made 30% of their field goal attempts. Without Bryce Aiken, they lack some of their outside threat, but still, the press worked better.
The Johnnies thrive on their defensive performance. It worked this evening. Opponents will look at tape of the game and note the scheme used by the Johnnies. They will assess and practice a response.
The Johnnies did this to prepare for game two against Seton Hall.
The question remains. Did the team find a scheme that will work game in, game out regardless of the opponent? Or is it a scheme that needs to be modified game in, game out? What was determined is this. With just one day of preparation the Johnnies were able to come up with a successful plan that led to victory.
The Johnnies had one game in which they truly were not competitive and that was the loss to Creighton. The team competed against Connecticut and Providence on their courts. They have four days to prepare then have Villanova and Providence coming up, both ranked in the top twenty of the country. The team made a step forward, turning the table on Seton Hall. It was a confidence builder.
Winning one of the next two is quite doable. Beating Villanova at Villanova on January 29th will depend on a repeat defensive performance. Can the Johnnies do it against an experienced Nova team?