The UBS Arena was partly filled as the Red Storm looked for a victory to begin momentum for the coming nine games of the season. The opponent, the DePaul Blue Demons, had yet to win a game in the conference this year.
Before the game, fans discussed which Johnny they felt needed to step up against the Blue Demons for the remainder of the season. The one name that most often came up was guard Jordan Dingle, who appeared to have fully recovered from his recent injury.
The Johnnies opened with a starting five of Joel Soriano, Daniss Jenkins, Jordan Dingle, Chris Ledlum, and R.J. Luis. Coming out in a man-to-man defense, they were opposed by the Blue Demons’ zone defense.
A Luis pass from the top of the key to a cutting across the paint Soriano led to a Soriano layup and a 2-0 lead. Twenty seconds later, a Soriano screen freed Jenkins for a three-pointer from the top of the key for a 5-0 Red Storm lead at 18:13.
The first five minutes of the half were sluggish for both teams. At the under-16 media timeout with 15:47 remaining, the Johnnies led 5-4. Coming out of the timeout, Jenkins drove into the paint, and as the DePaul defense collapsed around him, he passed to a wide-open Ludlum on the right wing, who drilled a seventeen-footer. The Johnnies led seven to four.
The Johnnies’ full-court pressure rattled the Blue Demons into two consecutive turnovers on inbound passes. Both steals led to passes first to Soriano and then to Ledlum. Both front-court players drew fouls and converted their free throws. After a Jenkins steal and feed to Dingle, who drilled a three, the Red Storm was suddenly up 16 to 4 with fourteen minutes to play.
As the half progressed, the Johnnies introduced a dual of Jenkins and Ledlum bringing the ball up with Dingle and his replacements setting up on the wing. Upon crossing the halfcourt line, the Johnnies often ran a weave with Soriano or his replacement, Zuby Ejiofor, coming to the top of the key to set screens for their constantly in-motion teammates. There was very little one-on-one attacking.
DePaul had a seven-point run, cutting the lead to 16-11, but Dingle responded with a three. When Glenn Taylor added to the three-point shooting barrage with a three, the Johnnies were up by nine, 22-13.
The remainder of the half found the Red Storm extending the lead to sixteen behind five points by Sean Conway and four by Nahiem Alleyne. The Blue Demons strung together a nine-point run to drop the Red Storm lead to five at 33-28, but Dingle broke the run with a three from the top of the key.
Halftime statistics found Dingle leading the way with 11 points, followed by Soriano with eight. After hitting a three early in the game, Jenkins did not score. He focused on distributing the ball to teammates, having taken but four shots.
Rebounding between the two squads was even, but the turnovers were different. The Red Storm committed just two, while the Blue Demons had nine.
The Johnnies started the second half with the same lineup that was on the floor at the start of the game—leading by nine, 38–29, as the half began. For five minutes, the teams traded field goals and foul shots until a flourish of scoring by the Red Storm, starting with two threes by Jenkins and then two threes by freshman Brady Dunlap. Suddenly, with 12 minutes to play, the Red Storm led 60-35.
The St. John’s second team received extended playing time, particularly in the second half. On one occasion, after DePaul called timeout and the St. John’s second team was returning to the bench, Jenkins hustled onto the court to congratulate them, demonstrating his strong leadership.
The Red Storm led all the way, essentially playing a man-to-man defense the entire game.
Takeaway One: Jordan Dingle returned to form
Jordan Dingle started the game, played 26 minutes, and scored 14 points, tying Jenkins as the leading scorer. More importantly, four of his baskets were three-pointers.
In the after-game press conference, Coach Pitino described Dingle as an “unbelievable scorer … there’s no shot he cannot make”. Pitino added that one goal for the Johnnies is to get easier shots for Dingle as he and Jenkins continue learning how to play together. Having missed several weeks of practice in the fall, coming back slowly at the start of the season, then missing some practice and game time due to a recent illness, perhaps this was the game Dingle broke out. Not only did he provide the long-range shooting the Johnnies desperately needed, but Dingle had five rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
If he can continue to perform in this manner, opposing teams may have to think twice before consistently doubling down on Joel Soriano.
Takeaway #2: The bench impressed
Due to so many close games recently, second-teamers on the Red Storm were sparsely used. Not so this evening. The five starters for the Johnnies scored 47 points and took down 26 rebounds while playing 122 minutes between them. The reserves outscored them on a per-minute basis, scoring 38 points in 78 minutes of playing time while taking down 13 rebounds.
Standing out were guards Simeon Wilcher (eight points), Sean Conway (nine points), and Nahiem Alleyne (nine points). Those three shot at a fifty percent rate and contributed four three-pointers to the Johnnies’ 28-point victory.
Freshmen Simeon Wilcher and Brady Dunlap demonstrated why they were highly-rated recruits. Wilcher played 12 minutes, scored eight points, and hit two long three-pointers.
Dunlap played ten minutes and hit two threes, breaking out of a multi-game slump. He also demonstrated athleticism on defense with two blocked shots, one at the end of the first half when DePaul was trying to fight back into the game.
Takeaway #3: Ledlum stands out
Perhaps the Johnnies are no longer the Jenkins/Soriano show. Along with Dingle and the bench, one other Johnny stood out: Chris Ledlum.
A somewhat undersized strong forward, Ledlum demonstrated an all-over-the-court presence in the game. Playing 31 minutes, though only scoring six points, Ledlum did everything else superbly. He took down ten rebounds, leading the team. He had three assists, two steals, one blocked shot, and only gave up two turnovers while being Jenkins’s partner bringing up the ball after baskets made by DePaul.
The team travels to Milwaukee to face seventh-ranked Marquette, whom the Johnnies lost to by a point on January 20 at the Garden. It was a disappointing loss, to say the least. Dingle did not play in that game, and Luis led the way by scoring 20 points.
In that January 20th game, St John’s hit five out of 21 three-point attempts. Against DePaul, Dingle made four threes, shooting at 40 percent from long range. Will he be the extra ingredient that brings the Johnnies to victory? Since that game, Luis has played a lesser role, hampered by a shin splints injury. Will Marquette seek out a newly inspired Dingle or prepping to hold back a struggling Luis? Or does Marquette have the type of lineup Luis can again excel against?
The chess match between Pitino and Shaka Smart begins again this Saturday against a Marquette team that has won six in a row, though not against the strongest teams in the Big East.
Tyler Kolek led Marquette to a 15-point and 11-assist performance when he last faced St. John’s on January 20. Can Jenkins, an improving-on-defense Dingle, a recovered defensive specialist Alleyne, or perhaps a match-up zone slow him down? If possible, the Johnnies could eke out a win on February 10, 2024.