“This is a big game today,” one fan shared during pregame warmups. “The team needs to prove itself, not so much to we fans, but to itself.” A win against the Marquette Golden Eagles in third place in the Big East would accomplish the self-confidence the team so needed.
That win did not happen, but there were promising signs, and a worrying finish.
Bad news from the outset: Andre Curbelo was suspended for an unknown reason. The Johnnies would be down one playmaker against a Golden Eagle team known for its pressure defense.
There was another puzzling change — the starting lineup (O’Mar Stanley, Dylan Addae-Wusu, Montez Mathis, Joel Soriano and David Jones) did not include Posh Alexander.
Changes aside, one constant was clear from the tip: Joel Soriano was ready to compete. His offensive rebound at the 19:17 mark drew a foul from Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Soriano converted two free throws for a 2-0 St. John’s lead.
Fifteen seconds later Addae-Wusu drove down the left of the paint and hit Soriano for a one-handed dunk and a 4-0 lead. The two would lead the Johnnies’ efforts throughout the contest.
Soriano was displaying a knack of hitting eight to 12-foot jumpers as Golden Eagle defenders were backing off to protect against his attacks toward the basket. The Johnnies game plan was working as he and Stanley were converting. The Red Storm built a 14-9 lead after a Soriano layup with 14:41 to play.
Posh Alexander entered the game after a TV timeout and hit an open three from the top of the key, assisted by David Jones. The Johnnies were up 17-11 and the excitement in Carnesecca Arena was mounting. A second three by Alexander a minute and a half later had fans wondering — had Alexander finally found his jump shot?
It did not take long for Marquette to bounce back and, after a 7-0 run, the game tightened. Johnnies fans, remembering that the team had jumped out in the lead against Seton Hall only to suddenly lose it as the first half moved along, were concerned, with one audibly saying “not again.”
But the trio of Addae-Wusu, Soriano and Alexander were competing. Two straight layups by Alexander cutting to the basket, both on assists from Soriano at the top of the key, found the Johnnies taking a lead 34-31 with 6:41 to play in a high-scoring half.
A short run had the Red Storm leading the Golden Eagles at halftime, 48-41.
Halftime: What was the Red Storm doing to lead Marquette at the half?
The Johnnies were hitting on 66% of their field goal attempts, including 44% of their threes. In comparison, the Golden Eagles were shooting 50% on field goal attempts and 27% from three point land. Soriano led the way with 16 points followed by Alexander with 10. Addae-Wusu had seven points, four assists and no turnovers.
The Golden Eagles had started the first half playing an aggressive three-man press after made baskets and the Johnnies had found a way to pass over it, thus minimizing turnovers. The team was also finding Soriano for open shots. As the half wore on, Marquette started discontinuing their full court pressure defense as the Red Storm had discovered some answers.
Lastly, Posh Alexander was contributing on the offensive end. All seemed well as the second half began.
The positive play of the first half almost carried through as the second half began. Soriano missed a five foot jump hook from the right of the basket, which would have extended the lead to nine.
Then the next 10 minutes came.
With the score 48-41 St John’s was outscored 29-11 in the first 10 minutes of the half. During these ten minutes:
- St. John’s missed five open shots.
- St. John’s made three open shots.
- St. John’s turned the ball over four times. All on bad passes.
- St. John’s hit three of five foul shots.
- St. John’s took and missed an off balanced shot with nine seconds on the shot clock. There was plenty of time to pass to a teammate for a better shot.
During the same period Marquette was moving the ball in and out and finding open teammates in three point range. The Golden Eagles were implementing backdoor cuts which the Johnnies were slow to cover.
St. John’s did force some poor Golden Eagle passes and stepped into a passing lane for a steal. But they did not convert so easily as the Marquette players were getting back in coverage after misses on the offensive end.
The Golden Eagles did not make any steals. But the game sped up and Red Storm players were making ill-advised passes. Lastly, the Johnnies simply missed some easy opportunities and the 65 percent shooting in the first half was not replicated.
The Johnnies began cutting the lead with 10 minutes to play, led by David Jones, who hit two long threes. With three minutes to play, David Jones dunked off of an Addae-Wusu feed. The deficit dropped to four. Plenty of time to catch up.
But then the Johnnies made the cardinal sin after scoring — they did not get back on defense and five seconds after the Jones’ dunk, the game’s leading scorer Olivier-Maxence Prosper hit a layup, was fouled and converted.
The Johnnies never got any closer.
Dylan Addae-Wusu makes his mark
Joel Soriano had a double double, again playing with passion. Dylan Addae-Wusu equally stood out. Wusu, getting more playing time due to the suspension of Andre Cubelo, made the most of it.
He scored 21 points on 8/10 shooting, which included three of five from three-point range. Addae-Wusu had three rebounds and five assists. Unlike some previous games, he made wise decisions on the floor, hitting driving layups and taking open threes. He earned the right to be considered to join the next game’s starting lineup.
Joel Soriano had his usual suburb performance but what about his frontcourt teammates?
O’mar Stanley started the game and was on the floor at the beginning of the second half. He scored four points, hitting 2/3 field goal attempts. Stanley took down a rebound and committed two fouls. In past games, he has been more productive and surprisingly only got 15 minutes of playing time.
Esahia Nyiwe scored four points and took down three rebounds. However, Nyiwe had trouble holding onto the ball as passes would at times bounce off his hands, particularly as the Johnnies attempted to come back after their lead slipped away. He was on the floor for 20 minutes, five more than Stanley.
Drissa Traore played for four minutes, hit an open jump shot, took down two rebounds but also turned the ball over twice.
Then there is David Jones. Jones plays more of a wing position than a true frontcourt, back-to-the-basket player. He is second on the team, next to Soriano, in scoring averaging 14.6 per game. He is also second in rebounding with 7.4 per game. He makes a significant contribution.
Soriano is producing with passion and skill but in this game he got erratic help from his true frontcourt teammates. It will be a challenge for St. John’s to bring one of the three, Stanley, Nyiwe or Traore along to obtain more production from them. One of them stepping up on a consistent basis is sorely needed.
During the Villanova, Seton Hall and now the Marquette game the Johnnies had a significant lead in the first half. After a timeout (Villanova and Seton Hall games) or during halftime (Marquette game) the opponents made adjustments to which the Johnnies did not successfully respond.
Why is the team struggling to adjust? In the first half of the recent Marquette game, the Johnnies seemed aware of their defensive assignments. They were even able to force a 30-second violation on the Golden Eagles.
Yet in the second half Marquette got many open three-point attempts which they converted. Their offense was in constant motion and the Johnnies had trouble keeping up with the movement. Backdoor cuts happen in any game. Once burned, teams become aware of these plays. The Johnnies failed to even cover Golden Eagle players on most of the backdoor cuts; Marquette players were, too often, wide open for easy layups.
During the beginning of the second half Marquette sped up the pace with renewed defensive pressure. St. John’s likes to play fast. Was Marquette simply the better team in an uptempo game? An argument can be made that this is correct. Should the coaching staff have called a timeout to get the game back into a tempo more suitable for St John’s?
Adjustments are the responsibility of both the players and the coaching staff. Timely time-outs, when the game starts drifting away, are needed to correct the game’s momentum. That call is made by the coach.
We as fans tend to overreact when adversity hits. You hear it in the stands. Fans, cheering wildly, in the first half for a superb performance were, as the Golden Eagles made their run in the first 10 minutes of the second half, quickly calling out “not again. Another turnover. They can’t make their free throws.” Then, when the Johnnies appeared to be recovering, the same fans were quickly back on board.
When adversity comes to a team, it is hard to be a basketball player. But Joel Soriano reacted best – “We ‘ve been so close so many times.” Yes, a loss is a loss, but within these losses, there were significant periods of time when the team outplayed opponents.
Joel Soriano continues to play superbly. Dylan Addae-Wusu showed that he can be a special player. David Jones has moments of explosiveness. Posh Alexander began hitting some threes then abandoned the shot after one miss. Could he regain his confidence in his shot? Would Andre Curbelo’s presence have made a difference to stop the Marquette run as the Johnnies struggled with the Golden Eagles pressure in the second half?
The Johnnies outplayed Marquette in the first half and in the last 10 minutes of the second half. Will they play the whole game consistently against Providence?
The challenge is significant. Providence beat Connecticut last night and sits atop the league with a 5-0 record. The game is both a challenge and an opportunity. Maybe this is the game the opponent’s run, if any, is countered quickly. If we listen to Soriano, we know the players believe in themselves. Can we fans join them in believing?