The Garden was alive from the start of the matchup against Connecticut, on senior night, the final home game for the Red Storm.
A season ticket holder and other fans agreed: someone had to assist Joel Soriano for the Red Storm to once again pull an upset of the Huskies. The season ticket holder felt “either Posh Alexander or Andre Curbelo must stand up and lead the Johnnies for the Johnnies to win.”
The atmosphere at the Garden was alive, as said, but unlike the Creighton game’s pro-Johnnies “defense” chants, it was Connecticut fans calling out, “Let’s go Huskies”.
Despite the chant, it was a positive start for the Red Storm. The defense held at the start of the contest as a starting quintet of Soriano, Storr, Addae-Wusu, Nyiwe and Alexander locked the Huskies down, forcing a turnover as the 30-second clock wound down.
Omar Stanley came in for Esahia Nyiwe at the 15:44 mark and soon after hit a three-pointer from the right wing to get the Johnnies within one at 15-14.
The Johnnies continued to mostly play competitively at the beginning of Connecticut possessions. But the team failed to consistently limit Connecticut possessions to one shot. As the half wore on the Huskies impressively attacked the offensive boards.
By the end of the half, Connecticut took 10 more shots than the Johnnies. Despite hitting a higher percentage of field goal attempts, the Johnnies found themselves down by 15 as the half was concluding.
Worse yet, the Huskies’ offensive rebounders were able to find open teammates from three-point range; the Huskies converted six threes to two for St. John’s. With a minute to play it was only a Posh Alexander layup and an Alexander three from the left wing that reduced the halftime lead to nine at 50-41.
David Jones, held scoreless in the first half, came alive with slashing drives, drawing fouls. He converted eight out of eight free throws. With A.J. Storr also attacking the basket, the pair kept the Johnnies within striking distance.
At times, the Huskies motion offense seemed to wear down the Johnnies leading to aggressive drives and then pitch outs to open teammates, who hit mostly from the corners. Watching Connecticut hit from three-point range, one fan commented, “does St. Johns ever take a three point shot?” At the game’s end the Huskies had made nine threes to four for the Johnnies.
The Johnnies were also stymied by Husky shot blockers — particularly 7 foot 2 inch Donovan Cligman, who blocked five Johnnie shots, mostly during the Johnnies’ efforts to fight back in the second half.
Two technical fouls, one on Dylan Addae-Wusu and the other on Coach Anderson, came at times when the Johnnies seemed to be breaking through the Huskies lead, taking the energy that was building amongst hometown fans. The Huskies converted all four of the technical free throws.
Efforts led by Posh Alexander and teammates continued into the last seconds of the game but the Johnnies fell to an athletic Connecticut team 95-86.
The call for a fan at the beginning of the game for either Alexander or Curbelo to step up was met by Alexander. It just wasn’t enough.
Takeaways over the recent games
Joel Soriano continues to down his share of rebounds. In this game facing 7’2” Donovan Cligman and senior center, Adama Sanogo, he still managed to take down 11 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. David Jones took down six in 28 minutes of play but the rest of the team only had 11, the same amount as Soriano. Earlier in the season, St. John’s prided itself in winning the rebound battle. Not so in recent losses to Creighton and Connecticut.
The offensive rebound discrepancy in the first half of the Connecticut game was most evident as the Huskies increased their lead to double digits. The Red Storm fought hard to make the Huskies work for open shots, but the Huskies several times beat the Johnnies to rebounding positioning.
A review of the game’s tape will assist coaches and players to identify what can be done to correct these problems. Adjustments made at halftime led to the Johnnies actually taking down one more offensive rebound than the Huskies did in the second half.
Who in these Three Games Showed Consistent Improvement?
The first player that comes to mind is freshman, A.J. Storr. Coach Anderson moved Storr into the starting lineup because of “how hard he worked in practice”. Since then, Storr has shown constant improvement, not only statistically, but in the expansion of his game. Earlier in the season most of his offense came from hitting open three-pointers, most comfortably from the corners. Recently he has shown flashes on defense and more consistent attacking of the glass to draw fouls and hit easier layups.
Dylan Addae-Wusu always has shown maximum effort and has been a force on both ends of the floor. He has had games where he has been an offensive force from three-point distance as well as on drives to the basket. His inconsistent offensive performance may be due to a lack of confidence in his long range shot. He was hitting long distance shots in practice with regularity but, while all alone on the left wing at a critical moment of the Creighton game, he passed up the shot he regularly hit in practice.
The game is a game of hustle, defense, shooting accuracy and confidence. Addae-Wusu has maintained his skillful play in the first two, his shooting accuracy has improved. Now it is confidence that will bring out the best in this Johnnie workhorse.
David Jones came to the Johnnies with high expectations and he met them at the beginning of the season. A mid-season slump coupled with missing two games due to the death of his father led to a lesser role on the Red Storm. However, in these past three games Jones scored 14, 14 and 15 points while taking down 21 rebounds, all coming off the bench.
Jones has learned to focus more on his quickness and slashing style of play and less on attempting long three-point attempts. If he continues in this path, he will continue to provide a much needed spark for the Johnnies.
O’Mar Stanley appears to have developed a reliable jump shot, even from three-point land. He continues to play defense and rebound and apparently has a bright future as he continues to improve his shooting.
Joel Soriano and Posh Alexander continue to lead the team. Despite facing more competitive opponents, Soriano continues to produce in all facets of the game.
Posh Alexander remains the emotional heart of the team, very closely followed by Soriano. Having a scoring average in single digits for most of the year, he seems well again. He has averaged 12 points a game and, with Johnnies down by 15 near the end of the first half against Connecticut, he aggressively scored six points in the final minute of the half to bring the Johnnies back into contention.
We, the Fans
We showed up at all Garden games this year and the Creighton game on February 18th was a sell out. The energy in the stands was there, even during the losses these losses.
But… Red Storm fans were overwhelmed by the Connecticut faithful’s “Let’s Go Huskies” chants right from the opening tip. Johnnie’s cheerleaders attempted to counter with a “Let’s Go Johnnies” response but with little success. Perhaps it is time for Red Storm fans to “make some noise” so we demonstrate to our student-athletes that we do care. Perhaps it is time to make plans to attend the Big East Tournament and be ready to be loud. If Huskie fans can do it, so can Johnnies’ fans. This is “New York’s Team” playing in New York City. A little more fan energy can transpose itself into the hearts of Red Storm players.
An away game against the top team in the league, a tournament day one game against Butler then, if victorious, a contest with the top seed in the tournament. A tough series of games for an inconsistent team but, at Madison Square Garden, this team isn’t packing the season in and neither should the fans. Find that 1957 hit by Chuck Berry. Listen to it. You will find yourself tapping your foot and ready to cheer out “Go Johnnies go! Go… Johnnies Be Good”.