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St. John's shows progress at NIT in loss to Gonzaga, but still has room for growth

St. John's finished second at the NIT, but there are "no moral victories" according to Phil Greene.

John Alber

After defeating Minnesota in the NIT Season Tip-Off, seniors, Sir'Dominic Pointer and D'Angelo Harrison both discussed how this team had grown up from last year. Red Storm fans saw a team that appeared ready to take the next step, mature and hungry.

Did that maturity disappear on Friday?

For much of the night, St. John's did not play like a team starting three seniors and was plagued by a lack of focus on offense for most of the night.

Slow offense?

Like in many games last year, St. John's got off to a slow start and trailed by as many as 7 in the first half.  Early in the first half, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Chris Obekpa each picked up quick fouls and were forced to sit.

For a team already at a significant height advantage, this hurt the Red Storm significantly. 6'10 Domantas Sabonis and 7'1 Przemek Karnowski feasted down low and finished with 14 and 10 points respectively on 11/14 shooting for the game.

Early in the second half, St. John's mistakes finally caught up with them. Chris Obekpa picked up two more fouls and had to sit with four. With Obekpa on the bench, Gonzaga attacked the basket and their lead ballooned to 14 with 10 minutes remaining.

But down by 14, St. John's finally began attacking the basket and was able to cut into Gonzaga's lead. Their ability to attack - missing in much of the first half - came from a small lineup with Sir`Dominic Pointer in the center/ high post against the Gonzaga zone.

Perhaps that is the growth the team described - growth and energy and smarts about the game that still came late in the contest, not all through the game.

Late game execution?

With 25 seconds left, St. John's was down by 3 and had a chance to tie the game. Rysheed Jordan, who turned the ball over 9 times, drove baseline and turned the ball over.

"The drive by Rysheed, if he gathers and high jumps the play over the top of the rim," Lavin said after the game, "it could have been and‑one situation.  But he long jumped, he kind of finished on the baseline out‑of‑bounds, which allowed them to make a play on it."

D`Angelo Harrison would have another chance to tie the game a couple of seconds later, but was called for a questionable charging violation. "[ON D`Angelo's play, we] have to watch the film to see what happened there in terms of the call," Lavin said. "But that would have been nice to get two free throws and be able to set our defense and then maybe have a different outcome."

These plays were ultimately a microcosm of the way St. John's played for most of the night. While the team prides itself on its maturity and experience, while the team played hard and never quit, they did not play smart basketball. On offense they took too many jump shots and missed too many free throws. Defensively, there were too many miscues and Gonzaga penetrators were left unguarded way too often.

No moral victories

After the game Phil Greene IV voiced his frustration with the result.

"We're a team, we don't like moral victories," Greene said.  "We felt like we should have won the game.  We fought, we played hard.  It just didn't go our way."

At this point in their careers, St. John's players - with so much experience - should not be satisfied with moral victories.

It is still early, but St. John's must cut out the mental errors or face finding themselves on the couch for the fourth straight year in March.

The Red Storm get back to the grind on Tuesday against Niagara and have a chance for a marquee win on Saturday against Syracuse in the Dome.