St. John's basketball 'surprised' Xavier with zone defense

The St. John's basketball team threw a new wrinkle at Xavier and the Musketeers weren't ready for the adjustment.

Dec 20, 2023; Queens, New York, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino  and Xavier
Dec 20, 2023; Queens, New York, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino and Xavier / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
facebooktwitterreddit

Rick Pitino has known Sean Miller for nearly his entire life and the St. John's basketball head coach had a trick up his sleeve when his team battle Xavier on Wednesday night -- a zone defense.

It was the first meeting in the careers of the head coaches and the Red Storm had not play very much -- if any -- zone this season but Pitino thought the Big East opener would be a good time to try and deploy the new system.

Xavier has struggled workign around a zone this season in losses to Oakland and Delaware and it continued against the Johnnies by shooting 3-of-21 against the St. John's zone.

"They were clearly ready and their scheme hurt us," Miller said after the 81-66 victory by the Red Storm. "They haven't played zone all year and they surprised us."

St. John's was able to force 18 turnovers and hold Xavier to 4-of-21 shooting from 3-point range.

"I thought they took our effectiveness and our rhythm on offense away from us," Miller continued.

The Musketeers' top 3-point shooter, Quincy Olivari, only attempted two 3-pointers and missed both shots as Xavier shot 24.9-percent from the field in the second half.

The switch to a zone defense was a bit surprising for the Red Storm despite the fact that Rick Pitino had mentioned the team was practicing it in the last few weeks but he said that it wasn't yet ready to be played in a game.

Playing consistent defense has been the biggest weakness with the St. John's basketball team this season but the Johnnies have held its last two opponents -- Fordham and Xavier -- to a combined 28.6-percent from the field (35-for-122).

It's defense will face one of its most daunting challenges of the season when the Red Storm (8-3) travel to Hartford to play No. 5 UConn (10-2) on Saturday night (8:00 p.m. ET, FOX).

Next. Rick Pitino not sure what to expect from St. John's. Rick Pitino not sure what to expect from St. John's. dark