St. John’s in Freefall After Missed Opportunities Lead to Loss vs. Metropolitan Rival

The Johnnies were fundamentally flawed on Saturday, failing to rebound, convert layups and make free throws.

St. John’s dropped another opportunity for a signature win at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Jan. 22nd when the team’s star players were unable to conquer Seton Hall’s size advantage, eventually losing 66-60.

Despite a slow start through the air from both teams, St. John’s jumped out to an early 8-0 lead backed by key defensive plays and rebounds. Joel Soriano was ready to play against seven-footer Ike Obiagu, who is one of the premier shot-blockers in the Big East. Soriano had three boards in the first two minutes, allowing the Red Storm to capitalize on an abysmal shooting start for Seton Hall. 

Early on, it would be a game of runs and droughts, as Seton Hall powered back into the game with an 8-0 run of their own. It was a back and forth effort that would continue until the final seconds of the half, when Tray Jackson sailed a game-tying three pointer through the net to tie the game at 28 points a piece. 

But when both teams returned from their locker rooms to start the second half, Seton Hall came out with something extra. Less than a minute into play, the Pirates’ Kadary Richmond threw a layup into the basket. Myles Cale quickly stole the rock on the inbound and made a layup of his own. Just 33 seconds into the second half, Seton Hall took a four-point lead that the Johnnies would never overcome. 

Myles Cale continued his offensive dominance at Madison Square Garden on Saturday–– he’s remembered for his high-profile performance against Kentucky four years ago–– but it was his defense that made the game one to remember. “I think this was the best game he’s ever played,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said in a postgame media conference. That’s because Cale barely gave Julian Champagnie breathing room throughout the contest, let alone room to create good shots. Champagnie was held to just nine points in the afternoon, ending his streak of 40 straight games scoring double figures. 

Unfortunately for the Red Storm, Champagnie wasn’t the only scoring threat negated by Seton Hall’s defense. Sophomores Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu were held to ten and nine points, respectively. “I think in any game if you don’t shoot the ball well, [we shot] 29 percent from the field, and get outrebounded your chances of winning are going to be slim,” head coach Mike Anderson said. “We need to clean up the little things.” 

Anderson named free throws, layups and rebounding as issues that led to the loss –– three relatively fundamental aspects of basketball. So why did the Johnnies fail to convert on these tries? “At the end of the day it came down to makes and misses,” said forward Aaron Wheeler, who led the team in scoring with 13 points. “We missed a lot of shots, a lot of easy buckets.” 

The more complicated answer, though, is that St. John’s continued to drive to the basket against Seton Hall’s Ike Obiagu, a traditional seven-foot center. That resulted in an abysmal conversion rate on layups and seven blocks for Obiagu. The Johnnies’ Soriano worked hard to secure rebounds on the other end of the court –– he finished with 14 — but was drawn to the perimeter on offense, where Soriano is a non-factor. Anderson said that the players driving to the basket was “a mystery,” since the team intended to kick the ball out to the perimeter against Seton Hall bigs. 

Seton Hall wasn’t at their best either. The Pirates were without their second leading scorer, point guard Bryce Aiken, who was out with a concussion and will most likely be out for Monday’s rematch. Willard declined to comment on Aiken’s status after the game. But when the game was in reach down the stretch, St. John’s couldn’t convert. 

With a minute remaining in the game, Mathis grabbed a key rebound and quickly ran the floor to set up a dunk for Wheeler, making it a four-point game. On the inbound, Addae-Wusu stole the ball under the basket, but couldn’t throw in the layup. Mathis grabbed the offensive rebound, but he couldn’t make the layup either. The Red Storm had the potential to quickly cut their deficit to two in crunch time, but instead missed two layups and fouled Cale on the other end to make it a six-point deficit. 

“There was an opportunity for us to [win],” said Anderson. “We missed a lot of lay-ups that would’ve given us an opportunity.” Instead, St. John’s is running out of time to turn around their season. The team is 0-6 in Quad 1 opportunities, their star player is inconsistent at best and the team is struggling with the most fundamental aspects of the game. 

St. John’s will face Seton Hall again on Monday, January 24th in South Orange –– it’s the first time St. John’s has faced the same opponent back-to-back in the regular season since 1927 –– at the Pirates’ campus arena with only students in attendance.