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St. John’s vs. Hofstra men’s basketball preview and game thread

The Red Storm look to cap off 2023 with a win over a plucky Hofstra team

 St. John’s Red Storm guard RJ Luis Jr. (12) drives the ball against Connecticut Huskies guard Hassan Diarra (10) in the first half at XL Center. David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

The last time St. John’s played was one week ago, but the Christmas break has felt like one hundred weeks. Finally, they are back in action as they face the Hofstra Pride in a Saturday matinee inside UBS Arena, hoping to cap off 2023 with a win over an intra-state foe and add to a recent streak of encouraging performances.

In their last outing, St. John’s narrowly fell to No. 5 UConn, 69-65, in a whistle-filled rock fight. The Red Storm had multiple opportunities to come away with an improbable win, but sloppy rebounding and clutch free-throw shooting crushed those hopes. Still, their defensive work and competitiveness were very inspiring and signaled that St. John’s was turning a corner.

As for Hofstra, they’re currently 7-5, rated 108th in KenPom, and are a combined 0-4 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 games. The Pride are coming off a nasty 74-56 road loss to UNLV on Wednesday night, in which they couldn’t overcome a ghastly first half of shooting 29% from the field.

Game Information

Who: St. John’s Red Storm vs. Hofstra Pride (7-5)

When: Saturday, December 30, 2023, 12:00 p.m.

Where: UBS Arena, Elmont, New York

TV: FS1

Opening Odds: St. John’s (-10), O/U at 148.5

Series History: St. John’s leads the all-time series, 22-5. They last played on December 20th, 2009, when the Red Storm bested the Pride, 72-60.

Scouting the Pride

Throughout the first three seasons of Speedy Claxton’s tenure at his alma mater, Hofstra has displayed they are capable of competing with high-major teams. In the very first game of the Claxton era, Hofstra forced overtime on the road against No. 15 Houston. One month later in that same season, they knocked off No. 24 Arkansas. Last season, they took down Rutgers inside the notoriously hostile Rutgers Athletic Center (yes, we’re still calling it that) in the first round of the NIT. Even this season, they caused No. 21 Duke to sweat by holding a lead with over two minutes to go in the first half inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. They would later lose that game by 21, but they fared better than plenty of power-conference teams inside that building.

Hofstra has been a well-oiled offensive machine. They shoot 54.9% from two (51st in the country), 37.1 % from three (48th in the country), and 79.1 percent from the free throw line (7th in the country). They also distribute the ball effectively, dishing out 16.8 assists per contest. The Pride will play from the perimeter, as 47.4 percent of their shots come from three. Much like St. John’s, they rarely draw trips to the charity stripe, with their 12.6 free throw attempts per game ranking third-lowest in the country.

They’re a mixed bag defensively. Sure, they only allow 46.5% from two-point range, but they get bombarded from three by allowing 36.2%, which ranks 305th in the country. Their most glaring weakness comes on the glass, where their 23.8% offensive rebounding percentage ranks 315th and their 69.5% defensive rebounding percentage ranks 248th. Even though Chris Ledlum is out with an ankle sprain, St. John’s should easily overmatch Hofstra on the boards.

Fifth-year guard Tyler Thomas paces the Pride in scoring at 22.1 points per game, sixth-best in the country, and he also shoots 41% from the field, 39% from three, and 94% from the free throw line. He can distribute a bit (17.9% assist rate) and he’s pretty secure with the ball (10.7% turnover rate).

Hofstra lives and dies by his contributions. Earlier this season, he once scored 40 points in a 97-92 overtime shootout win against High Point. When Hofstra got shellacked by UNLV, it also coincided with one of Thomas’s worst shooting performances of the season, as he scored 13 points while shooting 4-for-20 from the field.

Darlinstone Dubar (17.8 ppg) also has a penchant for scoring at all three levels, but he can do it with ridiculous efficiency. He shoots 67.6% from two and 40% from three on a staggering 6.3 attempts per game. As a 6-foot-8 swingman, he is also a disruptive shot blocker (3.1% block percentage). Junior guard Jaquan Carlos (10.7 ppg) is the Pride’s primary distributor, leading the team with 7.0 assists per game.

Canisius grad transfer and German international Jacco Fritz (5.7 ppg) is a highly-efficient finisher at the rim, shooting 70 percent on attempts near the basket. He isn’t a formidable post defender, but his value comes from his offensive reliability down low.

Keys to the game

Play through Soriano - Joel Soriano only took five shots in last Saturday’s loss to UConn. Five! St. John’s needs to make a concerted effort to give their leading scorer more chances, even if they don’t necessarily need him to have a big game against a team like Hofstra.

Shut down Tyler Thomas - We saw how St. John’s was able to shut down a fiery guard with a score-first mentality when they limited Quincy Olivari to just six shots in their win over Xavier, and they should be capable of doing the same against Thomas.

Don’t send Hofstra to the line - Blame the refs for a soft whistle if you want, but St. John’s was charged for 22 fouls in their loss to UConn, and it wasn’t exactly an aberration for a team that had been called for a combined 64 fouls in the preceding three games. St. John’s is steadily improving defensively, but they need to show they can defend without committing unnecessary fouls.

Prediction

Hofstra’s recent track record of playing above their level against high-major teams is concerning, but this St. John’s team is rounding into tournament form and showing signs of strong chemistry amongst this revamped squad. The Red Storm should prevail with a convincing 81-69 win.