After a controversial loss on Saturday, the St. John’s Red Storm look to avoid a downward spiral similar to last year and it starts Tuesday.
It is a new year for the St. John’s Red Storm, but Saturday’s heartbreaking, controversial loss against Seton Hall had to feel like déjà vu for the team and their fans. True, the call by the officials at the end of the game was bad. At the same time, St. John’s was unable to hold on to a 12-point lead late in the second half.
Last season, one of the things that Chris Mullin’s team struggled with was their ability to win close games. In 22 games decided by ten points or less, St. John’s was 11-11. If you condense that sample size into five points or less, they were 6-6 in those 12 games.
One of the complaints surrounding the lackluster non-conference schedule for St. John’s was that it wasn’t going to give them enough close tests going into Big East play. True, they had games closer than expected against California, VCU, and Georgia Tech, but it wasn’t the schedule that Seton Hall played against the likes of Kentucky, Maryland, and Louisville.
When you look at how St. John’s played on Saturday night, it was impressive to watch in the first half how many scoring options they had on the floor. Even with Shamorie Ponds off his game, Mustapha Heron had his breakout game with 19 points and last year’s top transfers (Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II) each had 16 points.
With that being said, you can’t shoot 9-for-27 from the floor in the second half and expect to win on a consistent basis. With the lack of size they have on the floor, it is going to cause them to rely on the jump shot more often than usual, so those scoring spells can happen and that can be trouble against No. 16 Marquette on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena (7 p.m, FOX Sports 1).
This season, Marquette’s offense has averaged 79.9 points per game and the Golden Eagles have scored 80 or more points in four of the last six games. They have three players who shoot 40 percent or better from downtown and three players who shoot at least 83 percent from the charity stripe. That is a good recipe to win ball games.
In this matchup, the battle of the guards will be fun to watch once again. For Marquette, Markus Howard is averaging 25.1 points per game and is 19-for-25 from downtown in the last three contests. As fans saw against Buffalo on Dec. 21 when the junior had 45 points, he can go on a scoring run by himself on any given night.
The question going into this game is whether or not St. John’s can defend Howard like they did last year on Feb. 10 when they held him to 18 points on 6-for-19 shooting. They did a good job frustrating Myles Powell on Saturday and they need that similar approach against Howard.
Meanwhile, for St. John’s, Ponds will need to have a strong game in terms of scoring. His passing has been pinpoint all season long and he’s been a consistent playmaker in helping others get good shots. However, if this game is close late, St. John’s will need their floor general to hit the clutch shots down the stretch or find a way to drive to the basket and get to the free throw line.
Another area of note that St. John’s will have to address is the lack of size they have in the paint. Seton Hall outrebounded them 46-30 and outscored them in the paint, 42-26. With that being the case, keep an eye on forward Joey Hauser for Marquette. The Hauser brothers are tough to stop from downtown but the freshman, in particular, has nine or more rebounds in the last three games.
This game isn’t a must win for St. John’s by any means. However, it is important for this veteran team to shake off the tough loss and put together a good performance from the start of the game until the end. This team and this coach specifically can ill afford to get off to a similar slump in the Big East that they did a year ago. Otherwise, their NCAA Tournament hopes will be quickly dashed.