In a chaotic, back and forth game with Temple, St. John’s overcomes frontline foul trouble to win, 78-72.
In what is increasingly becoming a worrisome trend, St. John’s struggled in the first half. The Johnnies fell into a bit of a chicken and egg scenario early on with their inability to both knock down shots and force turnovers. Without making shots, the Red Storm weren’t able to set up their full court pressure to force turnovers. Simultaneously, without being able to force turnovers, the Johnnies didn’t get many easy field goals.
Instead of waiting until the second half to make their move like they did against Nebraska, the game began shifting in the final seven minutes of the half. The Red Storm closed out the half on an 20-5 run largely led by Joel Soriano. The big man scored 6 of those 20 points to close out the half, near grabbing a first half double-double with 10 points (5-8 FG) and 8 rebounds.
While the Johnnies were able to make a late first half run, the concerns surrounding the team’s shooting persisted. St. John’s were 0 of 8 from deep in the half with David Jones and Andre Curbelo attempted 3 apiece, albeit with Curbelo having to attempt a pair of heaves as the clock was running out.
However, Curbelo and Jones made up for their shooting woes by breaking the chicken and egg cycle with their defense. Curbelo and Jones combined for 5 steals in the final 7 minutes of the half, regardless of whether the pressure defense was set up or not. Thanks in large part to those late steals, the Red Storm were able to salvage their points off turnovers with 12 in the half off of 13 Temple turnovers.
Thanks to the late push, St. John’s went into the half up 32-30 despite trailing by as many as 13 before the break.
I had a teacher in high school, John Ball, who was a defenseman in hockey in Minnesota growing up. He told me that defending wasn’t always about preventing the opponent from scoring because good scorers were just going to score. The goal was to make scoring so hard that the scorer didn’t think scoring was worth it.
That’s how St. John’s looked for much of the second half. After nearly every bucket, the Temple scorer made a face similar to this (sorry if there is no gif Apple News readers).
The downside of making Temple work so hard was the foul trouble it created for St. John’s bigs. With less than eight minutes remaining, Soriano had 4 fouls. Fellow big man O’Mar Stanley, who otherwise played well in the second half, had 3 fouls. Even the swing David Jones had 4 fouls. With Esahia Nyiwe having just returned to the team after a leave of absence, the Johnnies’ backline was exposed. To make matters worse, Temple big Jamille Reynolds and his 16 second half points (6-7 FG) might have been the only thing keeping the Owls in the game. With the Johnnies backline playing cautiously, Temple briefly took a two point lead.
With the backline thinning, Montez Mathis stepped up and was the leading cause of Temple players shaking their head. Mathis picked up where Jones and Curbelo left off and picked up 2 steals to go along with his 10 points (4-4 FG). In this chaotic game, Mathis was a stabilizing force by creating more chaos with his defense, almost like a knuckleballer stabilizing a pitching staff (fitting, because the ball also doesn’t spin when Mathis shoots the ball).
After a pair of Curbelo layups, Mathis hit a pair of free throws putting Temple into a desperation and fouling team. After a couple missed heaves by Temple, St. John’s holds on to win, 78-72.
Next, St. John’s take on a foe from the old Big East in Syracuse tomorrow at Barclays Center at 9:00 PM for the Empire Classic Championship.
St. John’s Red Storm
Montez Mathis: 16 points (7-10 FG), 4 rebounds
Joel Soriano: 15 points (7-10 FG), 12 rebounds, 1 assist
David Jones: 14 points (6-15 FG, 2-6 3PT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Jamil Reynolds: 21 points (8-10 FG, 1-1 3PT), 8 rebounds, 1 assist
Khalif Battle: 17 points (7-16 FG, 3-11 3PT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists