To take a page out of the notoriously overused Dennis Green quote, the Red Storm were who we thought they were for the most part in their 65-47 win over Longwood on Tuesday night.
I say for the most part mainly because they only got 3 points out of sophomore sensation JaKarr Sampson, but for the second straight game the Johnnies tied a school record with 15 blocks, and really allowed their defensive dominance to dictate their offense.
Heading into the half with just a four point lead – they shot 33-percent from the field, missing their first seven shots (and nine three’s) and did not have a point for the first 6:10 – St. John’s got out and ran more in the second half, getting higher percentage shots and getting to the free throw line 19 times.
And although the offense was ugly, they shot just 41-percent from the field on the night as their three leading scorers this year – D’Angelo Harrison, Sampson and Phil Greene – went a combined 8-35, it’s been encouraging to see the point guard play improved this season from last season.
Despite his early season ups-and-downs, Rysheed Jordan getting to the free throw line seven times in his return last night was huge, and when paired with Greene’s eight free throw attempts, this effort sheds a light on Steve Lavin asking more out of his point guards this season.
Don’t get me wrong, Harrison is still going to go iso from time-to-time (his 6-for-19 night was more of the “are who we thought they are” than “for the most part” that I eluded to earlier) and Sampson will struggle when he insists on taking lower percentage shots, but to have more creation coming from the point guard position bodes well for this team still searching for an offensive identity.
So after a fourth straight win, I don’t want to harp on the bad, but let’s continue to focus on the good: the defense. This St. John’s team isn’t only longer with the additions of Orlando Sanchez and God’sgift Achiuwa, but they’re more aggressive defensively, and the youth ccaterpillar that has hampered them the last couple of seasons has finally progressed into a beautiful veteran butterfly, as Greene and SirDominic Pointer have emerged as high-end role players in their junior seasons.
While his line doesn’t shine through the box score(s), Pointer was potentially the most impactful player on the floor for the Johnnies last night, as he drew charges, poked balls away that led to steals, and went perfect from the field (and 3-4 from the line). Obviously that doesn’t take away from Chris Obekpa blocking six shots, or as we like to call it, doing Obekpa work, but Pointer’s harassing defense forced some bad shots that allowed his big men to help out and get some big swats.
As for Greene, it seems he’s totally filled the role that Lavin expected Jamal Branch to fill in his first full season in Queens, being aggressive on both ends of the floor, and looking like a decent third scoring option next to Harrison and Sampson. When Greene isn’t scoring, he’s helping space the floor as his better shot selection has his field goal percentages up from both two and three, and he’s looking to make the extra pass that maybe he wouldn’t have made the last couple of seasons.
Granted, Longwood was without senior leader Tristan Carey, their leading scorer (18.8 ppg), but this was a team that St. John’s was able to physically overmatch for the majority of the game. With their offense still a ways from being considered reliable – which may be the case for a good portion of the season – Lavin will need defensive efforts like the one he got Tuesday night moving forward.
Fortunately for him, that’s the kind of team he has this season.
Follow Jared on Twitter at @JMintzHoops for basketball perspective and insight, and lots of complaining about the New York Knicks.