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Three takeaways, post-Seton Hall: can Alexander provide leadership

Soriano struggles, Red Storm cannot compensate. Team defense is inconsistent; Alexander provides uplift

Chris Hagan

The score was 29-18 when TV announcers stated, “the St. John’s half-court defense is very, very good”. There was 6:44 to play in the half. The half-court defense remained “very, very good” for another two and a half minutes as the lead increased to 33-20 after A.J. Storr hit two free throws.

With 4:11 to play, Andre Curbelo drew an offensive foul of the Pirate’s Femi Odakale. All was well. But then, Curbelo missed a three-point attempt and the next two and a half minutes were not friendly to the Red Storm.

What happened?

Chris Hagan
  • Curbelo does not pick up the Pirates’ Jaquan Sanders after he cuts around a teammate screening off the St. John’s defender; Sanders gets an easy layup.
  • Joel Soriano travels with the ball.
  • Jamir Sanders, guarded by Soriano, finds himself open in the left corner as Soriano plays halfway between Sanders and the rim. Suddenly the score is 33-28.
  • A.J. Storr on the right wing attempts to feed Soriano under the basket but does not see a Pirate defender who steps in to steal the entry pass. Storr hustles back to block a layup attempt by Seton Hall; but the rebounded ball is passed around the court by the Pirates. That ball finds its way to an open teammate in the left corner (again) for a three. With 2:03 to play in the half, the Johnnies 13-point lead is down to two.

The Johnnies manage to extend the lead to three after a Posh Alexander layup and left for halftime a bit rattled with a 35-32 lead.

Kadary Richmond (0) and David Jones (23) react to a call
Chris Hagan

Second Half

The Johnnies battled successfully for the first 10 minutes of the half and after an Alexander layup the Red Storm led 57-53 with the Pirates in foul trouble with four players with four fouls each. Unfortunately, like the first half a two-minute Pirate spurt turned a four-point lead into a seven-point deficit. What happened?

  • Addae Wusu jogged back after the Alexander layup and was beaten by Tyrese Samuel for a layup off a nice Kadary Richmond bounce pass.
  • David Jones, who was playing a good game, took an offensive rebound and tried to back his way through a double team and lost the ball.
  • The Pirates pushed the ball forward and found an open Al-Amir Dawes just left of the paint. Alexander was covering the fast break; instead of defending Dawes on the line, Alexander played back anticipating a drive. In response, Dawes pulled up and canned the three.
  • After a missed shot, Dawes unleashed another three from almost the same spot. This was the third time during the game that a Johnnie defender did not close out on a Pirate shooter leaving a comfortable three-point shot to be taken.
Al-Amir Dawes admires his three-point handiwork as deflated fans watch.
Chris Hagan
  • St. John’s called timeout but did not right the ship. Standing around on offense found a Johnnie, attacking off the dribble, facing a collapsing Pirate defense. With Seton Hall now in a zone, Storr turned the ball over. Seton Hall’s Jamir Harris followed with another open three -pointer on a run out with Johnnie defenders back but, once again, anticipating a drive to the basket, leaving Harris wide open for a three.

The Johnnies had played so well for the first 10 minutes of the half, but could not repeat their response at the end of the first half to Seton Hall. With a minute to play Soriano, who had struggled during the game, made one of two free throws bringing the Johnnies within six.

There was still time as the Johnnies contested the inbounds pass, almost coming up with a steal twice. Unable to do so, it became a game of fouling in hopes of the Pirates missing free throws.

However, Seton Hall went 6/6 in the last minute of play and a winnable game was lost due to a two-minute breakdown in the middle of the half.

Three Takeaways

Attacking a Zone Defense

Joel Soriano looks for an opening
Chris Hagan

Around the 10 minute mark of the second half the Pirates went into a zone defense. The Johnnies, who had and the Johnnies seemed uncertain how to attack. The high screens both Soriano and Esahia Nyiwe were setting became ineffective.

Attempts to feed Soriano were infrequent and, when he received the ball, Soriano, off his game, could not hit a jump shot. Late in the game with the Johnnies still in contention, Soriano, facing just one defender, was called for an offensive foul while backing in to the defender.

The ball movement that was so much a part of the earlier Red Storm offense had disappeared and the team that assisted on 65% of their made field goals against Georgetown three days earlier had only 11 assists for the game, a 46% rate.

The loss of Curbelo, the team’s best penetrator, to an ill-timed show of frustration that earned him a technical foul, did not help... but that is no excuse.

The team did try to work off Alexander in the high post to penetrate the Seton Hall zone but it was unsuccessful.

The Red Storm needs new answers against a zone defense; the old solutions (high-post Posh, high-post Soriano) did not work against the Hall’s defense.

Free Throws

The poor free throw shooting is obvious and this team cannot expect to win against quality opponents when making 17/27 free throws (a 63% rate). Some misses were front ends of one-and-one opportunities.

Earlier in the year the team was mostly hitting in the mid-70s sometimes in the low 80s. The team is simply not that good offensively to give up so many points at the free throw line.

Esahia Nyiwe (22) alters a shot with Kolby King (12) on the other side
Chris Hagan

Esahia Nyiwe played one of his better games and was awarded with 14 minutes of playing time. He drew fouls but missed five of seven free throw attempts. Working with Nyiwe on the arc of his shot may increase his percentage of made free throws and make him a more successful reserve subbing for Soriano.

Posh Alexander brings uplift

Everyone wondered, would Alexander play and, if so, if he would be impactful. The answers are: “yes” and “yes”.

Alexander could be seen talking to teammates, encouraging them and, beyond that, he scored 13 points hitting five of ten field goals and three of four from the foul line. To add to his night’s efforts were four assists and four rebounds.

At the beginning of the season everyone expected Alexander to lead the team but injuries have hampered him. The team desperately needs him to lead them. Period.

Outlook, or is there still any hope?

AJ Storr (2) celebrates with Posh Alexander (0)
Chris Hagan

There is nothing easy ahead. Only opportunities to perform above expectations.

Soriano has emerged as the team leader this season. His effort has been consistent and most of the time he has excelled.

But Posh Alexander was expected to continue to lead the team’s aggressive attack on both ends.

This is what was expected of Posh Alexander when the Red Storm opened their 2022-23. There were some injuries for Alexander. The three-point shot that appeared to be developing at the end of last season has not re-emerged this season. Alexander’s effort was still there, and on the offensive end, he did step up when no one else was successful; but it was not enough.

The team has struggled to play consistently with the focus on Soriano’s strong presence. The hope for this season rests in someone else stepping up, performing and taking some attention off Soriano. Can Posh Alexander be the man?

Let’s try to be optimistic and have the following occur: better free throw shooting, alternate ways of attacking zone defenses; Alexander’s influence in creating a more balanced offense with more influence from the guards.

Couple these hopes with the fact that Xavier is facing playing without one of its star players, Zach Freemantle, due to injury.

Can the inconsistent Johnnies find a way to work through any low moments in the game, avoid long runs by opponents and squeak out a hard-fought win over a top-20 team?