St. John’s lost in their second conference game to Butler 73-69 on Saturday after being defeated by Seton Hall on New Year’s Eve. Kellen Dunham led Butler with 28 points on six 3-pointers, and sealed the deal for the Bulldogs in the game with a key 3-point shot with a little more than two minutes left in the game.
The Red Storm started off the season well, and came into the game versus Seton Hall ranked No. 15 in nation and with an 11-1 record. But the Johnnies have lost two in a row, which draws back memories of last season, when they had a poor start to conference play as well.
Rysheed Jordan did not play against Butler, and although Jordan isn’t St. John’s leading scorer on the team, he is one of the most talented and is an essential contributor. Felix Balamou, a junior guard, also missed the game because of an ankle injury. Balamou would have played minutes off the bench if he been in the game.
With the two players out for St. John’s, the Red Storm starters all played a ton of minutes in the game. Sir’Dominic Pointer along with D’Angelo Harrison spent 40 minutes on the court, and Phil Greene IV logged 37 minutes. Jamal Branch also took part in 34 minutes of the game.
Jordan will play against Villanova on Tuesday though, according to the team's press release. This will put St. John's in much better shape for the game because head coach Steve Lavin will have more depth and options to use at his disposal.
St. John’s is still in the Associated Press' Top 25 poll after the two losses, to the surprise of some, and the Johnnies face another big challenge on Tuesday, when they play Villanova in their third conference game at Madison Square Garden.
Let's take a look at what went down for the Red Storm in their matchup with the Bulldogs on Saturday:
St. John’s box:
- D’Angelo Harrison carried St. John’s with his performance against the Bulldogs, but 31 points was not enough this time around because Butler cut off St. John’s' secondary options.
- Harrison’s 31 points was the second time this season he reached 30 or more points against an opponent.
- With the exception of Chris Obekpa underneath the rim, Harrison was St. John’s' best player defensively, as he gave both Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow fits over ball control, and was the best option for the Red Storm to generate anything off of transition.
- The absence of Rysheed Jordan further exposed how shallow St. John’s' rotations have been this season.
- St. John’s also had zero points off the bench against Butler. Then again, so did the Bulldogs.
- While Chris Obekpa had a great game for the Red Storm, with 11 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks, he was ineffective by the final six minutes of the game because of fatigue. Worse though is the fact that Steve Lavin has Joey De La Rosa as an option for center, but he has not shown much in small stretches. While it is a small sample size, Obekpa may be combating fatigue going forward with the lack of depth at his position.
- Again it was a tale of two halves for St. John’s, whom looked composed in the first half, executing in transition well and playing great defense. The second half was another story, as St. John’s came out sloppy from the start and never had an established game for most of the second period.
- Butler’s Kellen Dunham also had free range from most areas of the court, finishing with 28 points. Even with St. John’s trying to isolate his play from the rest of Butler, the Bulldogs were able to run the screen perfectly.
What it means?
Two games into Big East play, and with two losses in the book for St. John’s, it is clear that it is not the way the Red Storm wanted to start conference play after their stellar run through nonconference play. Conference play however does show the true nature of a team, and at this point, perhaps the true colors of St. John’s are starting to show.
Against Butler, it was a mixed bag of success and ultimately a failure. The Red Storm shot well from the field at 46 percent, had less turnovers, and more assists than Butler, yet at times still looked incredibly inconsistent on the floor. Most or all of these problems relate to the lack of depth in St. John’s roster, mostly due in part to the absence of Rysheed Jordan, but also of Felix Balamou. If Jordan had been in there, St. John’s most likely could have gotten a more steady stream of scoring. Balamou could have shored things up on defense if he wasn't injured, and perhaps may have even helped out with guarding Kellen Dunham on the perimeter.
That’s just speculating if both were in the game. But their absences and the lack of other options shows the problems that St. John’s might be in for going from here. While D’Angelo Harrison is going to do what he does best -- score -- St. John’s needs to find a solution to get consistency from everyone else on the floor. Chris Obekpa and Phil Greene had solid games against the Bulldogs, but it was not enough to match the consistent play by the Bulldogs on offense and on the glass, as Butler outrebounded St. John’s.
Going from this game to their matchup on Tuesday against Villanova, it should be interesting for St. John’s. At this point it is just a matter of getting that first Big East win, and then focusing to improve from there. Last season’s 0-5 start might be lingering in the back of the players heads by this point, and their last two games probably are too. The best option for St. John's might be a half court style, which won’t burn the energy of the offense, and also won’t over rely on their bench.