Friday night was, for the most part, St. John’s first true test this season as they made their way to Williams Arena to face Minnesota in the final game of the 2016 Gavitt Tipoff Games.
In a sense, Friday’s 92-86 win by Minnesota was settling the score set by St. John’s two seasons ago in their victory over the Golden Gophers at Madison Square Garden during the NIT Season Tip-off, but the parameters between both games then and now do not add up. The one constant between both games is that Richard Pitino is still head coach of the Gophers.
For St. John’s, Friday’s game was an uptick in competition compared to their first two games against Bethune-Cookman and Binghamton. St. John’s started the game in decent fashion, as they were able to get a quick 6-0 lead. They were able to get early production from Yankuba Sima and Shamorie Ponds, who, along with Marcus LoVett, provided an early motor for the Red Storm.
They were able to build the lead to as high as 22-9 early on in the first half, but it would be a false dawn as the Gophers, who were slowly percolating up to that point, woke up with a fresh pot of Amir Coffey, closing the half with a 32-9 run. Federico Mussini who usually is a solid option for St. John’s had a poor showing in the first half that would continue the rest of the game as he would finished the night with no points on 0-of-3 shooting.
In the second half, St. John’s tried to play a game of catch up with Minnesota as the Gophers led by Coffey took over. There were some close moments, but a lack of experience and the errors of youth held St. John’s back as fouls set in. Oddly enough St. John’s did out score Minnesota in the second half by a score of 55 to 51.
The biggest blow for St. John’s was fouls, as Tariq Owens fouled out of the game, and Bashir Amed, Yankuba Sima, and Kassoum Yakwe flew too close on foul trouble. Yakwe finished the night with three fouls, while Amed and Sima both had foul totals of four on the night. Minnesota as well had their troubles with fouls as well with Jordan Murphy fouling out and Reggie Lynch coming close with four fouls.
That early showing by the freshman Coffey was just a small piece of what was to come, as the he was would finish the night with 30 points as he had his coming out party on the floor of the Williams Arena. Behind Coffey, his efforts were matched with an 18 point showing by Dupree McBrayer and 13 point night by Nate Mason.
As a team the Gophers shot the ball tonight at a rate of 44% from the floor, 41% from three point range, and 79% from the foul line. They got out rebounded by St. John’s with the Johnnies nabbing 54 rebounds to the Gophers 41.
For St. John’s, while lack of experience may have hurt them in the stretch, there were high marks as Marcus LoVett continued his strong start to his young St. John’s career with a 31 point night. Following LoVett on offense was excellent showing by Shamorie Ponds who had 23 points and Bashir Amed who had 15 points, demonstrating that with more time and a fair bit of control St. John’s has the pieces in place for a solid offense.
As a team, the Johnnies shot the ball at a rate of 37% from the floor, 41% from the three point line, and 71% from the foul line. They had 11 turnovers tonight, something they have to keep an eye for and a mere showing of 5 points off the bench and 22 points in the paint.
On any other night, St. John’s showing on the floor in this game would have probably been enough for victory, but tonight Amir Coffey and the Golden Gophers proved to be too strong of brew for the Red Storm to handle.
Three takeaways from tonight’s game
The Errors of Youth
Despite building a lead early on in the first half, St. John’s found themselves playing catch up for the rest of the game. They came close on several occasions of leveling but in the end it was for naught as Minnesota held on. Among the immediate takeaways is that St. John’s as a team has progressed in terms of their play from where they were last season but due to the fact that the roster is limited on experience for the most part there is still that teething period to go through on a number of areas. Tonight the most apparent one was the inability to transition well on defense. In the first half the Johnnies let in 14 fast break points, but it was the second half that showed how glaring of an error it was when Jordan Murphy who sat most of the first half with two fouls was able to get through and around Bashir Amed and Yankuba Sima with relative ease. The good news is that these errors can be fixed. It just takes time and some trial and error.
Strong Cup of Coffey
Among the big stories from tonight’s game was the breakout of Amir Coffey, the 6’8” freshman guard from Hopkins, Minnesota. Prior to tonight, Coffey was averaging in the area of 11 points per game through his first three games of the season for the Golden Gophers. Tonight he went above and beyond erupting for 30 points for Minnesota and providing the necessary to motor for the the Golden Gophers in the middle of the first half. That motor allowed the Gophers to pop up from the hole they were in early in the first half and go on a run to close the half.
LoVett continues to Shine
Tonight was a heavy offensive showing by St. John’s, with Bashir Amed going off for 15 points and Shamorie Ponds finishing the night with 23, but at the center of it all was Marcus LoVett. Much like how Amir Coffey was the focal point for Minnesota, Marcus LoVett capped off his night with a showing of 31 points on 11-of-27 shooting and 6-of-8 from the foul line. So far this season LoVett’s points totals has gone up in each successive game for St. John’s. He opened his collegiate career with a 19 point display against Bethune-Cookman, then followed up with a 23 point night against Binghamton. Tonight he took it to another level and in the process brought his points per game numbers up to 24.3 points per game. At some point he will regress but for now its been a promising start so far.