The contrasting styles of two basketball teams featured in tonight's matchup told more of a story than a box score ever could. From the outset it felt as if the weight on Marquette's shoulder's to perform at a level on par with those at the top of the conference left the Red Storm of St. John's hanging around for far too long, capitalizing with their smash-mouth style of basketball we BIG EAST fans have come to adore from the New York based University.
Marquette forced a lot of early mistakes from the Red Storm, picking apart passing lanes and disrupting the pace of play to favor the up-tempo pace Marquette tends to utilize when the energy and adrenaline are peaking. This worked to their advantage considering the numerous miscues it caused for St. John's, but also worked to their disadvantage as their defenders over pursued and left a player wide open to shoot and cash in.
It seemed like these processes worked on a rinse-repeat motion, with Marquette building a sizable lead off turnovers, only for St. John's to inch their way back utilizing a never-ending motion offense. It was a marvel to watch that Red Storm offense pick and run, constantly moving and screening to get a guy open. It was something I hadn't seen out of them all year, as previously they'd seem complacent with running a half-court style that would make a tipped jar of molasses say, "Hey bud you're moving too slow please hurry up, you're making me late for my snail party at the sloth house."
To counteract this now fluid offense Chris Mullin seemed dead set on running, he also implemented a full court press for a large majority of the first half. Normally one would run this blitz if their team needed to get some easy baskets and put a dent into their opponent's lead bu- oh who am I kidding, St. John's is perpetually losing. They should've been running this from day one!
Marquette relied on a great deal of pressure down low, pushing the ball into the hands of their bigs, only to find Cheatham and Jajuan Johnson cutting to the rim and finishing at the rim. The normally balanced shooting of the Golden Eagles was further cemented in the first half as they finished shooting 63% from the field.
As the offense continued to dominate the game in the second half, I began to ponder why neither team was playing defense. It's an old adage that defense strains the body a great deal; so forcing your team to perform at a high rate on the defensive end is ultimately detrimental to the team performing said task. In a tournament-style of play, this is promptly avoided - especially when there's three more games to potentially play.
It was quite the spectacle watching these two fractured and partially damaged offensive sets become bewildered when there was a clear lane to the bucket or a wide open jumper from the elbow. Both teams sagged, heavily, and seemed apprehensive to do too much on defense other than foul when a player drove to the basket. It was like watching a colander of limp noodles get tipped into a truckload of river rock.
As the second half wore on I kept thinking that the astronomically high field goal percentage would begin trending back to the norm, but no. Instead, both teams were offered free points in exchange for a lesson to children on how to play lackadaisical defense.
Regardless, Henry Ellenson was amazing. He was his best self, a rebounding machine with a beautiful shot to keep the gears oiled. He was tenacious and St. John's failed to have an answer for him.
I wrote most of this before there was four minutes on the clock in the second half. As the half wore on, I felt smug and assured that Marquette was going to pull this one out - piece of cake. Then, St. John's kept plugging away. Marquette kept missing free throws. Chaos began to erupt in the very fabric of this year's college basketball season. The actual thought of St. John's winning a BIG EAST game became more and more real, reaching a peak during a timeout with just under four minutes left with Jones at the line shooting two shots to make the game 86-84.
I began to sweat.
All this work in this recap, for naught? My lord, I've only had four hours of sleep, spending a third of my day on airplanes, another third walking the streets of New York, and the final third watching basketball. Could all my work be so worthless?
Nah, Marquette clinched the game as it dwindled down. St. John's had both Alibegovic and Ellison foul out, putting to great of a dent on their offensive production to salvage the game. Marquette made their free throws as we ran out of time. That was it. What an exciting and bizarre finish to a not so exciting and normal basketball game.
Shoutout to Jajuan Johnson for saving my article.