Though St John’s fans were pleased with the win over Merrimack — quickness on offense, sixty percent of the team’s baskets were assisted and three-point shooting from Montez Mathes and David Jones — one statistic could not be ignored… 29 turnovers.
One season ticket holder summed up as “there were too many unforced turnovers and the team must play under better control”.
Andre Curbelo, Posh Alexander, Joel Soriano, David Jones and Montez Mathis started the game for the Red Storm, the same quintet that began the Merrimack game on November 7, 2022.
The Johnnies opened the scoring as Jones and Mathis double teamed forward Kyle Jenkins; Jones stripped the ball and fed Mathis for a dunk and a 2-0 lead. A good start but the Johnnies suddenly found themselves behind. Jenkins made up for his turnover by hitting a three, followed by the senior leader of the Leopards, Leo O’Boyle, also hitting a long ball and at the 18:18 mark the Leopards led 6 to 2.
Soon after Jones got hot, hitting consecutive threes, both assisted by Joel Soriano. On the first Soriano drove deep into the paint drew the Lafayette defense towards him and hit a wide open Jones at the top of the key. A minute later Soriano took an offensive rebound and once again hit Jones for a three and a 10-9 lead for the Johnnies.
At 14:25 Posh Alexander found Raphael Pinzon open on the right wing for a three-pointer and a 13-9 lead. Fans noted that nine of the first 13 points by the Johnnies were from out deep.
Coming out of a time out, the Johnnies challenged the Lafayette ball handlers, forcing them to take shots with less than five seconds on the shot clock. To the Lafayette’s credit, they made some of these hurried shots on their way to hitting 45 percent of their threes in the first half.
At the half St. John’s was barely ahead, 34-32, with Jones leading the way (14 points on 5/11 from the field).
Lafayette fans in attendance shared that they were happy that their team was competing. They stated that their new coach was bringing positive energy to the program, and they were impressed with the performance of David Jones in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Red Storm fans, were pleased to discover the Johnnies had only committed three turnovers in the half.
It did not take long to see that the Red Storm had made adjustments. Soriano did not score in the first half and it was time to bring the Johnnies center more fully into the game. On the first five Red Storm possessions of the half, the Johnnies fed Soriano underneath the basket and he obliged, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the half. During these six minutes of play, the 6’11’ center also took down four rebounds. More importantly the two point halftime lead had grown to six, 50-44.
Dylan Addae-Wusu heated up, hitting four out of five three-point attempts with Curbelo assisting him with feeds after driving into the paint.
The Johnnies defense tightened with the Leopards three-point percentage going downward throughout the second half on the way to a Red Storm 83 to 68 victory.
Three-Point Shooting Defense
In the first half the Leopards hit threes at a rate of 44%, but dropped to 35% in the second.
In the second half Johnnie defenders focused on their assignments, instead of wandering to create double teams to steal the ball. The Red Storm have strong one-on-one defenders as evidenced by the many times Lafayette was putting up shots with less than five seconds on the shot clock.
There were not a lot of turnovers in the game on either side. The Red Storm discovered that it could be successful simply by creating a focused man-to-man defense, which led to more forced shots by the Leopards and better opportunities to box out and control the defensive boards. Lastly, Lafayette players seemed frustrated as they were being forced take shots with the shot clock running down.
Three-Point Shooting by the Red Storm
The Johnnies hit 50% of their threes, led by Addae-Wusu hitting 4/5 attempts. Coupled with the offensive surge of Joel Soriano in the second half, the Johnnies developed both an inside and outside game which was difficult for Lafayette players to cover.
The Johnnies success on threes can be credited to teammates’ ability to find open shooters in comfortable positions to find success. Red Storm players assisted on 68% of the team’s field goals and on 100% of the 10 made threes.
Even good teams make turnovers; it was amazing that in the first half the Johnnies committed but three turnovers. By game’s end the total for the Red Storm rose to 10. What made this game different than the opening day win over Merrimack?
The tone of the game was part of the reason. Lafayette simply played a slower paced game and the Red Storm adapted, particularly in the second half. While racing down the court for layups and dunks are adrenaline-filled moments, the steady, minimal turnover game may bring more success and prepare the Johnnies to excel at game’s end, when future games are on the line.
The Johnnies found a way to score successfully without a flurry of fast breaks.
In the Merrimack game the Red Storm were at times overly aggressive. Yes, there was good ball movement, but Johnnie players found themselves attacking into the paint, being double teamed and passing out in desperation often inaccurately. Not so today as the Johnnies were more observant as to spacing and where teammates would be as plays progressed.
Of course, each game brings different dynamics and opposing teams have different skills that call for adjustments by both coaches and players. In this game against Lafayette the proper adjustments were made.
The 2022-23 version of the Red Storm appears to be a deep team. With two competent point guards, improving with each game, the team can expect to compete against most opponents, The ability to feed the ball underneath to Joel Soriano and to have him convert became apparent as the Johnnies made the adjustment at half time to feed him. Soriano delivered.
The team continues to press all over the court after made baskets yet demonstrated an ability to pick up at the half court line and force the Leopards into late-in-the-clock desperation shots. The team must fine tune their defensive efforts to know when to double team and when to remain in a straight man to man.
The team should double when a defender is at a disadvantage and less for the sole purpose of creating a turnover.
Can the successful long-range shooting continue? The outcome of the season may depend upon it.
A successful start with the really challenging games coming soon.