St. John’s Still Hindered By Youth And InexperiencePosted by mlemaire on December 5th, 2012
Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between St. John’s and San Francisco.
The return of St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin to his hometown for a game against the San Francisco was supposed to be an opportunity for the third-year coach to show off a team brimming with athleticism and potential. Instead the USF Dons used last night’s tilt to expose the Red Storm and prove to those watching that all the athleticism and potential won’t make a difference if the Johnnies can’t play smarter, more consistent basketball. Within the first two minutes of the game, the Dons had canned a pair of uncontested three-pointers sandwiched around an easy transition layup and while the Red Storm clawed back into the game for a few minutes in the second half, open looks became a common theme as the Dons shot 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from behind the three-point line en route to a rather easy 81-65 victory, their fifth in a row.
“Tonight I thought was our most uneven performance from start to finish,” Lavin said. “We have to give credit to USF because they were doing some things really well, but I wasn’t pleased from my perspective with the unevenness of our play. Both offensively and defensively, I don’t think we were tied together and we weren’t playing with much purpose.” Lavin didn’t directly attribute the inconsistency to the inexperience of his team, but he did later say he thought his team played “immature basketball” and given the Red Storm’s shot selection, defensive breakdowns and consistent venting at the referees, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to assume that youth and inexperience played a large role in the disappointing performance. Lavin said the the team had three goals going into the night; cut down angle penetration; stick to shooters; and never lose Dons’ star De’End Parker. The Johnnies accomplished none of those things. Point guard Cody Doolin (18 points and career-high 14 assists) carved the Red Storm up with penetration, the Dons’ shooters buried nine three-balls, and Parker finished with a game with a team-high 21 points.
Offensively, with the exception of Jakarr Sampson, the Red Storm were equally out of sync. Leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison seemed disinterested at points and finished the game with just 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Third-leading scorer and point guard Phil Greene IV was practically invisible for most of the game and finished with just six points and one assist on 2-of-7 shooting, and wings Sir’Dominic Pointer and Felix Balamou seemed more inclined to argue with the referees about foul calls than attack the basket.
Yet even amidst all the disappointing play, there were still plenty of glimpses at the Red Storm’s potential. Down nine late in the first half, the Johnnies ratcheted up the defensive effort and closed to within three at halftime. Then, when that effort and intensity disappeared to start the second half and the Dons opened up a 15-point lead, the defensive pressure came rushing back, keying a 10-0 run and getting St. John’s back in the game. Also, Sampson was terrific. The uber-athletic freshman single-handedly kept his team from getting blown out, scoring from everywhere on the floor in the second half and displaying the versatility and athleticism to make him an intriguing NBA prospect.
But every flash of promise and talent, the Red Storm made just as many if not more mistakes. The team’s talent and potential is self-evident. Few teams if any can match St. John’s when it comes to length and athleticism, but few teams can match their youth and inexperience either. Lavin’s seven-man rotation last night was comprised entirely of underclassmen and Dons’ head coach Rex Walters drew up an excellent game plan, his veteran team executed that game plan, and the Johnnies’ inexperience and youth was exposed.
There are teams in the Big East such as DePaul and Providence and Rutgers that just flat out don’t have the talent or the depth to match their conference counterparts. St. John’s is not one of those teams. They have the pieces in place to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth; it’s just getting those pieces to play consistently and cohesively that is holding the team down for now.