As we like to say in our own daily lives, “what a difference a week makes.” For the St. John’s Red Storm, the past week has been a roller coaster of emotions and performances on the court and yes, a week does make a difference in the post-season hopes of every college basketball team right now. Remember, March is but a little more than a month away.
Last week, the Red Storm dropped two huge games against rivals Creighton (87-64 in Omaha) and a devastating home loss in the Garden to Seton Hall 66-60. Late January in conference play is not the time to lose all-too important games against the same folks who are fighting to get to the NCAA tournament. Head coach Mike Anderson had all of his players look at game film after the losses and collectively identify what their problems were and defense and intenstity level were identified as the key culprits in these losses. Basketball is a fast, contact sport which should fire up passions, emotions and intensity. When a team lumbers up and down the court methodically and without purpose, the end result is usually the same-defeat. As an old football and basketball coach, we used to demand players move around like “their hair was on fire” and that point generally meant move with an extreme purpose to help your team. Mike Anderson has figured this point out.
The end result? A big road win against rival Seton Hall 84-63 on the road. Playing in the tiny Welch Gym on the Seton Hall campus for the first time since 1985, St. John’s showed the Pirates that they were back and the season is all but over at this points. Posh Alexander came off the bench for the Johnnies and played like his hair was on fire and inspired the Red Storm with 19 points, seven critical rebounds, five assists and three steals in 29 mintues of rejuvenated effort. Alexander’s on-point game fired up his team mates to do the same. Aaron Wheeler came in and dropped an additional 17 points and a huge ten rebounds to the cause while Tareq Coburn drained three 3 pointers. Stalwart leader Julian Champagnie’s offensive game was way off against Seton Hall. However, defensively speaking, Mr. Champagnie brought the heat on the his side of the court with eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
The changes in the defensive attack was obvious as St. John’s used the defense to seal the deal for this big win against the Pirates. As the old saying goes: “offense wins games; defense wins championships.” Whatever the case might be, the Red Storm need to take this win and run with it down the final stretch of the regular season. You find a way to win and if defense carries the day, then use your defensive tools and find a way to grind out your opponents. Tough, physical wins are exactly that-wins.