Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 26th, 2017: Seton Hall at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma’am: St. John’s came up with stops late to put away a pesky Seton Hall squad, 77-71. Alisha Kebbe’s 17 points led four Johnnies in double figures. JaQuan Jackson led all scorers with 32 for Seton Hall, with LaTecia Smith adding 13.

For shutdown blocks, fun posters, mild freakouts, seniors, questioning long jumpers, and alumnae, join your intrepid and haunted blogger after the jump.

So here we are. I love the place, but I hate the time. It’s the last guaranteed home game of my scattered season, and it’s Senior Day, and it’s the Awkward Bowl.

And it looks like Sandra Udobi has retired. If she’s not in uniform for a token Senior Day start, then she’s not playing. Awwww, Sandie.

The Liberty are participating in the pregame sports clinic, so the season ticket people are out, with schedules and all the leftover giveaways from last year.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, Aaliyah, put a shirt on.

Jade Walker will definitely have a large cheering section in this one. They were here before the gates opened.

I could be wrong- I often am- but I’m pretty sure Shadeen Samuels is back with Seton Hall. Either that, or Coach Bozzella brought in a walk-on for, like, one game.

Oh, dear. I don’t see Lubirdia Gordon out there for Seton Hall, and what I’m overhearing is not good. She’s been through way too much this year, and if she has to miss her last regular-season game, I am going to have a Talk with Someone Upstairs about when enough is goddamn enough.

The fine art of not looking people in the eye and being able to look away when people are looking at you has been very helpful with Seton Hall warming up right in front of us. There is a reason I call it the Awkward Bowl, and it’s not just because of those times when we dealt with the threat of physical violence.

Seriously, y’all. Never fall in love with two teams from the same conference. It never ends well.

Dear Seton Hall: why have you been hot trash on a platter against every team in the conference but St. John’s? You’re really not helping.

At halftime, it’s 37-36 St. John’s. We’re not switching well on defense, which has led to multiple situations where our de facto center is attempting to guard a tiny point guard with speed and moves. Maya on KK is a bad plan, Joe.

Fortunately, I don’t have to fight with God. Bird Gordon made it back and played.

Because the Awkward Bowl needed to be even more awkward than usual, Kaela Hilaire’s whole fam damily has set up shop in our section. Guys. Unless I have learned different etiquette than everyone else, you sit by your own bench on the road.

Senior Day ceremony was nothing to write home about. Jerseys, flowers, a composite highlight reel. Same as it ever was.

I’m not sure, but I thought I saw Kia Wright in the stands across the way, and Keylantra Langley may be wandering around again.

Oh, come on. This is the second biddy game I’ve seen this year where one of the kids has gotten hurt. And now they’re making the team with the injured player play 4-on-5, this is not fair. At least the kid came back.

That was closer than it had any real right to be, but I’m comforted by the fact that the defense dropped the hammer in the last couple of minutes to seal the deal. That’s the St. John’s team I know and love.

Seton Hall kicked our butts on switches. Too many possessions ended in mismatches (why in any universe would Aaliyah Lewis be guarding Lubirdia Gordon?). Much as Washington did with Kelsey Plum yesterday, the best plan for the Hall was to give the ball to Quanny and get out of the way.

Skyler Snider played very briefly when Coach Bozzella had nowhere else to turn amongst his forwards, for one reason or another. Lubirdia Gordon arrived late, and she was her solid self down low, setting screens and finishing at the rim. She also embraced her role as senior leader and mother hen when she took the T for arguing with the ref. We’ll go back to this later. Shadeen Samuels was back, and moving better than ever. Her offense hasn’t fully arrived, but that will come with time. Her defense and her screens are already there, though. I’m really glad to see her back. She took a lot of hard fouls, and I’m not sure if it’s something she said, if it’s a consequence of her style of play, or just a coincidence.

Jayla. Honey. When Tony told you to use your head, he did not mean that literally. Jayla Jones-Pack was called upon to step up because of fouls and injuries, and she did not answer the bell. Part of it wasn’t her fault; her pass-catching has never been top-notch, and whatever injury to her wrist caused her to need to wrap it can’t be helping. She started out of necessity, and didn’t start the second half. Claire Lundberg somehow managed to lead Seton Hall in rebounding. I still don’t know how. She has the inside size and outside game that Jade Walker has, but that doesn’t mean that she’s the right person to attempt to defend Jade. Offensive skill set =/= defensive skill set.

Today, of all days, we got the good Quanny. Why did we have to get the good Quanny? She was on fire. A lot of it was because her teammates set her up with screens- both Bird and Shadeen had wicked picks to open her up for threes. And once she’s feeling confident in her offense, she’s stronger on defense, more willing to take risks to get steals to convert to fast breaks. What the defense gave Seton Hall were looks for JaQuan Jackson, and SHU took full, full advantage. Kaela Hilaire still has work to do, but she seemed to play more within herself for the first three quarters of this one than she did at the game at Walsh. She stumbled in the fourth, losing control of her dribble under pressure. I do wonder if she felt pressure to perform and show off in front of the family; I don’t think a lot of them make the trip out to Walsh very often. LaTecia Smith was quietly efficient. She was in and out more than usual as Coach Bozzella tried some larger lineups against St. John’s. (I’m amused that our announcer calls her TT, but Seton Hall’s announcer insists on calling her the full LaTecia.)

My Johnnies are going to kill me one of these days, but it will be with love.

Jordan Agustus rocked the protective glasses. She didn’t play much, but she looked stylish doing it. Andrayah Adams brought the sweet jumper, but her defense was not where it needed to be. She didn’t have the hustle, that extra edge that leads to chasing loose balls. Maya Singleton did. She laid out for balls on the ground, and she owned the boards. She made a huge block on a late three attempt by JaQuan. She’s been so huge ever since Imani Littleton injured her knee, and I don’t know where we’d be without her. Crystal Simmons brought the defense, including a couple of big blocks on driving guards late. I’d like to see her be more confident in her shot, but I’ll settle for her amazing defense.

Kendyl Nunn got the ceremonial Senior Day start, which was a relief. (Coach Tartamella has occasionally overlooked this aspect of Senior Day etiquette.) She’s not a Big East-level player, and I don’t think she ever was, but I’m still happy that she got out there to make some hustle plays and get a bucket. Aaliyah Lewis didn’t have as secure a handle as she usually does- she had a couple of fumbles out of bounds. I think playing against two similar players in KK and TT hurt her. She hit the free throws when it counted at the end of the game. Little bitty thing always comes up big when we need her. Alisha Kebbe got hot from outside, and I think it surprised her almost as much as it surprised Seton Hall. She was rock solid today, just when we needed her. I love the way she’s developing- there are so many facets to her game, and every game seems to showcase a different one of them. I’m really excited about her potential.

The tournament version of Akina Wellere seems to be back, for the most part. She’s still got to hold on to the ball better- she and Alisha both had trouble fishing out passes that weren’t perfectly thrown. And Seton Hall did a good job of taking away her angles on the outside so that she couldn’t get off three-pointers. That just forced her to go to the rack, where she converted with efficiency and a bit of élan. Jade Walker had the jumper working today, though her inside game wasn’t as on point as I would have liked. The Seton Hall defense collapsed on her whenever possible.

It’s hard to say this with a straight face, given the shooting percentages in this game, but defense won the day for the Johnnies. We made big plays down the stretch and kept Seton Hall from getting the buckets they needed.

Take that will not make me popular in most parts of Queens: Maya should have been called for the foul against Kaela, and Bird did the right thing by getting in the ref’s face about it. The technical was costly, in its own way, but I think it was more important for Bird to take control of the situation and keep KK from saying anything she might regret later.

The school encouraged alumnae to come on out to the game, and boy did they ever. You don’t realize how much you miss someone sometimes until they’re mentioned, and then I got to missing Greeba Barlow, and Tara Walker, and Monique McLean, and Amber Thompson, and all the others I’ve seen come through St. John’s. Not everyone on the list was in the picture, and not everyone in the picture was on the list, but it was good to see everyone.

Officiating was the usual mélange of inconsistency. They really let the teams play, for the most part. Both coaches registered high on the Adubato Scale at times.

There comes a point in one’s life where everyone looks a little bit like someone, right? I’m not the only person this happens to? So you can imagine the sensation of my heart in my throat when I thought I saw... a certain Seton Hall alumna who prefers I not mention her... hanging out in the arena after the game. But the woman didn’t react, so it had to have been a coincidence, similar features and a similar hairstyle. That would have put quite the damper on the day.

They added an autograph session after this game, so we got to wish the ladies good luck and chat them up about the game. Go forth and be awesome, Johnnies! (You too, Pirates, but, uh, y’all haven’t given me as much reason to expect it this year.)

There’s a sense of finality about this game, but a tenuous one. At Seton Hall’s Senior Day, I knew I would see them again at St. John’s; at LIU’s Senior Day, I knew I would see them at St. Francis. But this is it. This is all that we are guaranteed. The Big Dance is the most distant of dreams. The WNIT is uncertain. All that we know we have is the conference tournament. My teams are now relegated to television, and that’s never a fun feeling.

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