Tuesday, November 8, 2011

St. John's 74, William & Mary 59

[recap] [box score]

The first game of the college season brought an interesting contrast of styles.

Both Tony Shaver's Tribe and Steve Lavin's Red Storm (led on an interim basis by Mike Dunlap as Lavin recovers from surgery for prostate cancer) played 2-3 zones. But the two defenses were similar in name only.

W&M played a more traditional version of the 2-3, sitting back on its heels and inviting St. John's to beat them with the three-pointer. St. John's, on the other hand, matched up with William & Mary in the backcourt, extending its 2-3 and 1-1-3 sets into half-court traps.

For the first half, at least, both things worked in William & Mary's favor.

Offensively, the inexperienced Johnnies spent the first 20 minutes forcing early jumpers or swinging the ball aimlessly around the perimeter. Defensively, it was more of a mixed bag, as the pressure did force a number of turnovers against the ballhandling-challenged Tribe. But the Red Storm's reckless closeouts made it easier for the Tribe to penetrate the zone's gaps with the dribble, and their rotations were poor, giving W&M plenty of open looks from deep.

William & Mary led 33-26 at the break. The second half, however, was a different story.

It didn't appear to me that St. John's ratcheted up the pressure or anything like that in the second half, but William & Mary turned the ball over even more often, and the Red Storm's transition game ran the Tribe right out of Carnesecca Arena. On the relatively rare occasions that St. John's found itself running half-court offense, they were able to penetrate the zone with a traditional one-guard front, with the non-traditional wrinkle of having the point man -- and not the opposite wing -- dive into the lane after passing.

The defense was an interesting strategy decision for Lavin and Dunlap. The pros of the pressure defense were many: W&M has weak ballhandlers; W&M would undoubtedly want to slow the pace down; and St. John's was likely to struggle in the half-court, making transition its best option for offense. On the other hand, the only way W&M was going to win was by getting open looks, and the aggressive pressure gave up plenty of those.

In the end, the strategy worked -- mainly due to William & Mary's weak guard play and the fact that the Tribe got tired. Against a strong opponent -- or even one with a true point guard, I'm not sure it would have been as successful.

St. John's notes: The player of the game was juco transfer Nurideen Lindsey, who had 15 of his team-high 19 points in the second half. Lindsey excelled in transition, going to his left the majority of the time. He also had five of his team's 12 steals, which he got both by shooting pass lanes and with quick hands on the ball ... God'sgift Achiuwa, another juco transfer, had a strong game, though he needs to be more active in fighting for position on offense. He had two nice drives in the first half posting up on the right block and going baseline. Defensively, he took two charges, an important skill in the college game, where officials tend to incorrectly give the defense the benefit of the doubt ... Moe Harkness kept the Red Storm in the game in the first half, and was the only guy on the team with a consistent-looking jumper ... The backside of the St. John's zone was vulnerable all night, especially to a screen ... The Johnnies made just 12 of 25 free throws.

William & Mary notes: Quinn McDowell had only five days of practice leading up to this one after missing six weeks with a knee problem, but after a rusty first few minutes, looked like he hadn't missed a beat ... Julian Boatner and Brandon Britt each knocked down a couple of jumpers, but other than McDowell, no one was particularly impressive offensively ... The Tribe were without Kyle Gaillard, JohnMark Ludwick, and Tim Rusthoven, though it's unclear how much assistance they would have been. Gaillard and Ludwick are three-point threats, but wouldn't have helped with the ballhandling much, and Rusthoven is far from proven in the post ... Marcus Thornton, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland last season, had a difficult collegiate debut, with seven turnovers. His shot selection was poor; his shots were rushed; he committed two charges due to over-penetration (though the first was a bad call); he was shaky with his handle; and he forced a couple of passes.

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