St. John’s will look to head into the holiday break on a good note this afternoon when they play St. Joseph’s.
For St. John’s (9-2), they have just one game left before Big East play begins. That game will be at another neutral site in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Their opponent will be the St. Joseph’s Hawks (5-5) out of the Atlantic 10, a team they haven’t faced since the postseason NIT back in 2013.
While Phil Martelli’s squad has won three of their last five games, they come into this afternoon’s contest having lost back-to-back games to No. 1 Villanova (94-53) and to Temple (81-78).
Back in the preseason, the Hawks were picked to finish third in the conference behind St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island. They have two players that average close to 17 points per game in guard Shavar Newkirk and forward James Demery.
Newkirk has scored 18 or more points in four of his last five games, but he is shooting just 35 percent from the floor. As for Demery, he is averaging 17 points per game in his last four and has had a pair of double-doubles this year.
When you look at this matchup, its going to come down to whether or not St. John’s can force turnovers. Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon are both close to 30 steals on the season, but they could have a tough time doing that against a Hawks team that only has 87 turnovers for the entire year.
Looking back at the Iona game, St. John’s didn’t give many shot opportunities to their frontcourt players. In total, Marvin Clark II and Tariq Owens took 11 of the team’s 61 shot attempts (made seven of them). While Clark has only taken seven shots in three of his last five games, he is 21-of-44 from the floor (48 percent).
As for Owens, he is well known for his shot blocking (three or more blocks in six straight), but another factor to his game is that he is efficient around the basket. True, most of his shots occur near the rim, but he is 11-for-14 from the floor in his last two games.
An X-factor to this game on the St. Joseph’s side is Taylor Funk. Funk doesn’t start, but he can hit three-point shots off the bench with the best of them. He hit only one three-pointer against Maine on Sunday, but he had three or more threes in three of the previous four games.
One thing that the Red Storm have struggled with over their first 11 games is starting games fast. True, they have been able to have second-half surges and big comebacks. However, they can’t play like that in the Big East and win consistently. Once they get ahead, they have to keep stretching the lead and not let their opponent back in the game.
A win today would give St. John’s ten non-conference wins for the first time since 2014-15, which was their last NCAA Tournament appearance. They also accomplished that feat in 2009-10 (made the NIT). Plus, it would guarantee them no bad out-of-conference losses, which is always good when trying to make the big dance.