The results looked a whole lot like last year’s. But St. John’s fans have to hope the similarities will end with their team’s 51-49 win over UMass on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
The Panasonic Holiday Festival title marked the team’s second in as many seasons. Last season, the two wins, especially the domination of then-No.17 N.C. State in last year’s final, was the highlight of the Red Storm’s first season under coach Norm Roberts.
St. John’s only won three games the rest of last year.
This season, the victories over Columbia and UMass won’t be looked at in March as the best part of 2005-2006. They will only be looked at as another twist and turn in this maze of a season.
Have the Johnnies learned how to win after a blowing a 27-14 halftime lead against the Minutemen? This team is too much of an enigma to figure out.
Is St. John’s the same team that floundered in a loss to Marist and an abysmal second half against Hofstra? Or is it the squad that crushed Columbia for 40 minutes and looked like it was on its way to a rout against Massachusetts?
Too early to tell. Recount the hanging chads and check the validity of those voting machines. Actually, it won’t matter either way. The Red Storm is as much of a question mark as the status of its leading scorer, Daryll Hill (day-to-day with a knee injury).
Going into the Big East season opener √¢?” Jan. 4 at Seton Hall √¢?” it might be good to know the team’s identity. Obviously, as Roberts has stated multiple times, his team has to focus on defense. He doesn’t have fantastic slashers, shooters or scorers. Especially with Hill sitting out or playing injured like he will be for the rest of the season.
“We gotta stay consistent,” junior forward Lamont Hamilton said. “Especially on the defensive end.”
The team needs a tablespoon of consistency and a double shot of effort.
“We just slacked off the first five minutes of the second half,” said Hamilton of a final half where UMass shot 50 percent and outscored St. John’s, 35-24.
Added Roberts: “I thought our pressure on the perimeter got a little lax.”
St. John’s won’t be as big inside as Big East teams. It may not be as quick and it certainly won’t be able to out-shoot any conference foes. So the Red Storm can’t afford to “slack’ for any amount of time.
Slacking means reaching in on defenders. Slacking means using your hands and not your legs and body to defend. Slacking means you’re going to get called for a lot of silly fouls.
Case in point against UMass:
St. John’s held the team to 18.5 percent shooting in the first half. The Minutemen took four free throws in the first. UMass shot 50 percent after the break and took 18 free throws.
“We were kind of a step slow,” Roberts said, “and we got into some serious foul trouble.”
The trouble isn’t the fouls, it’s what’s leading to the fouls: lazy play. And that can’t happen to a team that went 9-18 last season.
But if St. John’s could come out like it did against Columbia and in the first half against UMass, it could be a very dangerous team the rest of the way.
“We played with passion and intensity,” Roberts said. “We have to play like that every game.”
Or three more wins will complete this mirror image.