Another mediocre first half and a superior second half in a Red Storm win over Central Connecticut.
The Johnnies once again got off to tepid start, particularly on defense as the Central Connecticut Blue Devils jumped out to a 12-6 lead with 16:33 to play. In the first three and a half minutes the Blue Devils had hit four of their first five shots, three from three-point land.
The Johnnies were countering somewhat successfully by feeding 6’11” center Joel Soriano down low and he was converting. A nice pass to Montez Mathis in the right corner for an open three cut the deficit in half but the Blue Devils started finding success driving to the basket, and extended their lead to seven at the 15:23 mark of the half.
Then Posh Alexander began to assert himself.
At the 14:38 mark he backed a Blue Devil defender down and quickly spun for a layup. The Johnnies were down five. A minute later he drove to the basket, drew the defense to him and hit Omar Stanley for a layup. The deficit was three. Then, after a Stanley block of a drive by Nigel Scantlebury, Alexander drove the length of the court and hit Mathis with a behind the back pass for a layup. The Alexander/ Stanley show had brought the Red Storm within one.
Andre Curbelo joined the party with a steal and a feed to Alexander, who made another layup, was fouled, and hit the free throw, The Johnnies were ahead 20-18.
Curbelo then hit two pull up short jumpers indicating his ability to be an offensive threat beyond his ability to feed open teammates.
The Blue Devils senior guard Scantlebury led a Blue Devil comeback with 12 points. CCSU briefly retook the lead 28-27 on a Scantlebury three with 1:48 to play in the half. A fast-paced finish, led by David Jones’ scoring, has St. John’s leading 40-36 at the half.
The fact that the Blue Devils shot 53.8 percent from the field and 46.2 percent on their three point attempts led a season ticket holder to express “if I were the coach I would call time out and tell them to stay with their man on defense and, if you don’t, I will take you out.”
With the Johnnies shooting 25 percent on three-point attempts in the first half, another fan, reacting to some hurried three-pointers with plenty of time to run a play, stated, “the coach should tell them no jump shots in the first 15 seconds of the 30 second clock unless you are wide open from a kick out from a teammate”.
The Johnnies, as in the Lafayette game, minimized their turnovers in the first half, committing just five, while the Blue Devils had nine.
Would the second half, like the second half against Lafayette, find a Red Storm resurgence? Coach Anderson was demonstrative in his last-second instructions to the team just before the half began. For the third straight game the starters in both halves were the same – Mathis, Alexander, Soriano, Curbelo and Jones.
For the first four minutes the Blue Devils played tough and halved the deficit to two. After an official timeout at the 14:51 mark with the Red Storm, the team made an adjustment on defense. After made baskets, the full court pressure no longer included double teams but rather the Blue Jay ball handler was pressured but the rest of the Johnnies dropped back to find their defensive assignment. CCSU took seven or eight seconds off the shot clock, simply bringing the ball up, only to find Johnnie defenders in place and ready to challenge them defensively.
As the half wore on, the team sprinkled in a zone defense to keep Central Connecticut off guard. Central Connecticut missed their next four shots, David Jones made three shots, Mathis hit two layups and suddenly the six-point lead was 16 at 63-47. Freshman A.J. Storr hit four out of five three pointers, most from the left corner, and the Johnnies coasted to a 91-74 victory.
Let’s Talk Defense: The Blue Devils shot 58.3 percent in the first half then 48.3 % from the field in the second half. A defensive improvement but still on the high side. The Johnnies, however, cut down on Central Connecticut’s success on three-pointers, cutting their success from 46 % in the first half to 29 percent after halftime.
Nine turnovers in the first half became 12 turnovers at game’s end. A Big East coach had reportedly suggested that if the Red Storm could not turn you over they could not stop you in the half-court. The second half performance against Central Connecticut challenges this assumption.
In the first two games the Johnnies were double teaming all over the court even with front court men Soriano and Stanley. This strategy had, at times, given opponents advantages as they were able to break through the press and have four on three or three on two attacks on the basket. In the second half of the game the press still existed but with few double teams in the backcourt. In this game the strategy worked.
Balanced Scoring: Four Johnnies were in double figures led by freshman, A.J. Storr with 16 points and David Jones with 15. When the team needed him to step up Posh Alexander scored 12 and had five assists. Most importantly, Alexander took over the game for about five minutes in the first half, leading the team from a seven point deficit to a three point lead. Montes Mathis scored 13 on five for seven shooting and Andre Curbelo hit three jumpers and recorded five assists demonstrating that he is ready to make a significant contribution to the team.
In the midst of all this scoring the team committed just seven turnovers in the game against a team that played an upbeat style.
The Freshmen: A.J. Storr’s shooting from long range stood out as teammates found him on five occasions in the corner for open threes. He made four of them. He also had two steals in just 17 minutes of court time.
His ability to hit from a distance could be a needed ingredient as the competition toughens.
Kolby King played 11 minutes of good defense. He often brought the ball up, had no turnovers, had a rebound, an assist and hit a three pointer. He appears ready to make a contribution to the team’s success.
The competition toughens in the next three games — Nebraska of the Big Ten followed by the Empire Classic.
Nebraska has opened the season with two victories and should provide stiffer competition than the three games to date.
The Johnnies have demonstrated that they have multiple players who can provide an offensive lift to the team. Against Central Connecticut Alexander stepped forward to lead the team against Central Connecticut when the team needed someone to take the lead.
Both Curbelo and Alexander have demonstrated that they are “pass first” point guards and the team has made adjustments to find the hot hand as the season, so far, has progressed, In addition the team has won the rebounding battle in the first three games but will this continue as the competition stiffens?
The key, though, is the defensive intensity. It has been inconsistent in the first three games. Will the team and individual players make adjustments as they face opponents with different skills? Will these adjustments come during the first half and not wait for halftime?
Much will be learned about this year’s squad in the next three games.