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St. John’s vs LIU takeaways: runs, wins but still holes to fill

Alexander and Pinzon return with success; as Soriano continues to dominate

NCAA Basketball: LIU at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

First Half

With Montez Mathis out ill, Coach Anderson replaced him in the starting lineup with O’Mar Stanley, who, along with Joel Soriano, gave the Red Storm two rebounding shot blockers in the starting lineup against the Long Island University Sharks. Others joining them as starters were David Jones, Andre Curbelo and Posh Alexander, back from concussion protocols.

Joel Soriano opened the scoring with a jumper assisted by Andre Curbelo. For the Johnnies all the scoring was by Soriano and Curbelo in the first five minutes, until Posh Alexander hit a three at the 15:03 mark to extend the lead to five.

Alexander was joined in returning by sophomore guard Raphael Pinzon, who had been out with a sprained ankle.

As the Johnnies began to pull away in the game the two returnees further extended the lead. Alexander drove into the paint and pitched back to an open Pinzon for a three from straightaway. The lead was now 19-11 and Red Storm fans were heartened by the contributions Alexander and Pinzon were making as they returned to action.

The Curbelo/Soriano connection continued as Curbelo drove down left of the paint, curled under the basket and hit Soriano for a dunk and a 32-18. Soriano followed up with a jumper, this time assisted by Pinzon and the lead was 16.

At an official TV timeout, the Red Storm were converting 58% of their shots while LIU was only hitting 31%. Surprisingly, the Johnnies had committed eight turnovers to five for the Sharks.

With the exception of Alexander and Pinzon the Johnnies were not converting their three-point attempts, hitting on 22%. Everything else was clicking. The ball was moving amongst teammates as the team registered assists on fourteen of their made baskets, a seventy percent rate. In contrast, the Sharks were not credited with any assists on their nine made first-half baskets.

Second Half

The game’s starters were once again on the court when the second half began. LIU came out in a zone and the Johnnies were ready. The team attacked the zone as follows:

· Soriano came forward beyond the free throw line to set a screen around which Alexander attacked the basket. He hit a cutting Stanley for a layup attempt, drawing a foul.

· Jones simply beat the zone with his quickness on a drive.

· An open three by Alexander, after a pass from Stanley. Alexander converted.

· Curbelo set up around the foul line, took a pass from Alexander, and after one dribble found an open Soriano under the basket for a dunk — once again making the connection.

The next time the Johnnies were bringing the ball up, the Sharks were out of the zone defense.

Three minutes and twenty seconds into the half the lead had climbed to 55-24 after two layups by David Jones. The Sharks had not hit a three-pointer in the game but that was to end. Leading scorer Jacob Johnson made the first of his three three-pointers and the Sharks began to whittle away at the Red Storm 31-point lead.

The Sharks missed their first 11 attempts at a three in the first 25 minutes of play yet, led by Johnson, they hit eight out of 14 long range attempts in the last 15 minutes. Many of these shots were wide-open looks as the Johnnies continued to press — leaving gaps for perimeter shooters.

With a lead that peaked at 32 points with 13:35, to play Coach Anderson substituted freely. On offense, the Johnnies continued to make spectacular plays. With just under 12 minutes in the game freshman A.J. Storr was on the left wing. He drove across the paint and drew the Sharks defense to him but with good court vision, he found an open Soriano for a dunk.

Two and a half minutes later Alexander drove down the right wing on a break. He passed to a sprinting Esahia Nyiwe, who was charging down the left of the paint, with a bullet pass. Almost perfect, it was just a foot behind him. Leaping into the air, Nyiwe caught the ball with his right hand and in one motion dunked the ball. The fans erupted and the Johnnie players on the bench were standing, hands on the top of their heads, in disbelief that Nyiwe was able to catch and then dunk the ball in one quick motion. The Johnnies led 72-46.

The Sharks never gave up but also never got closer than 23; the Red Storm arenow 8-0 on the season.

Three Takeaways

Alexander and Pinzon: Posh Alexander played 27 minutes and seemed fine right from the start of the game. His final stat line was impressive: 12 points on five for nine shooting, which included two of four from beyond the three-point line. In addition, he had four rebounds and eight assists. Additionally, continuing his aggressive play on defense, which sometimes has landed him in foul trouble, he committed no fouls.

Alexander had been reported to have an improved long-distance jumper but this is the first game this season that he has had success from three-point distance. With his many skills, if Alexander developed a reliable three-point shot, imagine him pump-faking a defender, then driving to the basket. Was today’s performance a start to an anticipated addition to his game?

Speaking of long-range shooters, teammate Raphael Pinzon also came off the disabled list and also demonstrated an ability to hit the three. Pinzon has perfect form on his jumper and it seems that it will only take experience for him to become a reliable shooter. Shooting five for nine, including three out of five from three-point land, Pinzon joins a growing list of Johnnies as potential long distance shooters. Andre Curbelo, Dylan Addae -Wusu and David Jones have also had impressive games shooting the three.

Will one or two emerge as an everyday reliable shooter?

The Defense: The game featured pressure defense throughout the court even when the team had a lengthy lead. One fan muttered – “do we have to press when we are up by 30 points?”

The pressure defense usually is man-to-man. Sometimes it features double teams. Sometimes it appears the goal is simply to take time off the thirty-second clock with the goal of locking opponents down when they cross the half-court line.

Give Coach Anderson credit for mixing up his man-to-man defenses. He mixes and matches given the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. He changes defenses to keep opponents off guard.

Watching the LIU game the Johnnies press appeared to leave Shark players out of sync with each other, struggling several times to avoid the 10-second midcourt violation. There were turnovers and the Johnnies converted a high percentage of them into easy fast break baskets.

Yet the final number was 17 turnovers for the Sharks and 14 for the Red Storm. It was not an abundance of turnovers that won the game.

It was tight play in the first 25 minutes of the game that minimized easy baskets and completely eliminated the three. In past games the ability to convert three-point attempts had kept many other opponents in the game.

Balanced Scoring: Once again there were multiple players who scored in double figures. This game, Curbelo led the scoring, hitting an impressive eight for eleven from the field. He certainly seems comfortable playing point guard for the Johnnies.

Next in line was the reliable Soriano hitting eight for 10 for a total of 16 points. Give his teammates credit for their court vision in finding him and getting him the ball for easy opportunities.

Jones and Pinzon added 14 points and Alexander scored 12 while leading the team with eight assists.

The Johnnies assisted on 60% of their shots. This is above their season rate of 55%, which is tied with rival Seton Hall. Other Big East rivals, Connecticut (at 66%), Marquette (also at 66%), and Xavier (at 64%) all have significantly higher ratios than the Johnnies. With the many playmakers on the team can this assist to made baskets percentage improve? The teams with higher percentages of assists per shots made are mostly having good seasons to date.


The team has reached that moment in the season… an away game with a ranked team that they will not be the favorite in. What can fans anticipate?

The team will play hard.

Alexander and Curbelo will keep the team competitive even if the long range shots are not falling. If one or hopefully two players are on, this team will be dangerous offensively.

Joel Soriano has been a wonder to date with all of his double-doubles even against the length of Syracuse. He will face 24 year old Osun Osunniyi, 6’10 inch center for Iowa State. Osunniyi is described by Iowa State Coach, T J Otzelberger, as an “elite rim protector”. The battle between Soriano and Osunniyi may define how much improvement Soriano has made since last year.

Iowa State defeated North Carolina and Villanova last week before Connecticut soundly beat them.

Where are the Cyclones on the assist-to-made basket ratio? They are at 57% over the season, two points beyond St. Johns.

Keys to the balance of the season for the Johnnies:

· Improve the assist to made basket ratio

· get competitive play from Soriano and Stanley as the competition becomes more competitive

· find one or two reliable long-range shooters.