Sunday, November 24, 2019

November 13th, 2019: Lafayette at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's started strong and kept the lead up in a 76-44 win against Lafayette to open the home schedule. Qadashah Hoppie led all scorers with 22 points. Alexis Santarelli led Lafayette with 14 points and five rebounds.

For trying to get back in the groove, physical posts, and the fly in the ointment, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.

Good evening! We come to you on an entirely too-cold night from the cozy confines of the redecorated Carnesecca Arena, as St. John's opens the season against Lafayette.

Men's soccer is in the Big East tournament against Providence (and has scored at least one goal) so attendance is scanty, to say the least. Most of the Usual Suspects, SJU Edition, are passionate enough about all Red Storm sports that they're at the soccer game and will be coming sometime after that finishes. So band appears to consist of one guy with a drumset, cheer appears to consist of four people, and dance has, like, two representatives. Well, guess we're going to have to work a little harder. Okay. Emergency reserve band has been revealed.

The new banners are very modern. The place still has that new vinyl smell. I don't know if I like them yet. Something rubs me the wrong way about having the Final Four banners and the NIT banners center-hung, but I realize I'm being irrational about this.

Magnetic schedules are pretty sharp. Already grabbed one for the door. The posters also look good, though that gets grabbed on autograph day and no sooner. I like that they're not the same design as the men, although a running motif with a coach that likes to slow down the offense is either misleading or indicates that Joe has maybe stopped playing scared.

At the end of the first, it's 22-14 St. John's. Qadashah Hoppie has gone nuts with 11 already. Defense looks good early. Yeah, the field goal percentage doesn't show it because when Lafayette has the ball long enough to get a shot, they can get a good shot. But we're doing work making sure they don't have the ball in the first place.

It's 39-25 Johnnies at the half. The freshmen need work, which makes sense this early in the season. Alexis Santarelli of Lafayette is probably not going to have a lot of friends in Queens by the end of the night.

So if a St. John's alumna who works for another Big East team shows up to a St. John's game, is she doing it in a personal or a professional capacity? Asking for a friend, or at least someone who says hi at games. (Meanwhile, I almost swallowed my Tootsie Roll whole {this is not a euphemism, it's medicinal} when I saw Curteeona Brelove approaching the bench with a warm-up shirt on, but it was one of last year's shirts and she kept going.

The rec life halftime game was plagued with turnovers, but hey, there were dunks, so there are people who almost certainly think it's inherently better than D-1 action.

I'm not sure what to make of Lafayette, except that they seem to know that they have tall, physical post players and want to use that to their advantage. Against a team that doesn't run a trap, or against teams that aren't as good defensively, they might be able to get their pick and roll action going on a more regular basis, and they might be able to use those screens to get their three-point shooters open more often. We are not that team.

Makaila Wilson was able to take advantage of her size in the post and put in some buckets- either she had a shorter defender on her or she had Kadaja Bailey, who couldn't make the turn with her in the paint. Jiselle Havas didn’t see a long stretch of time in one shot until the second half, at which point she and Tiana England seemed to be having some polite disagreements. Sydney Sabino saw time in the second and fourth quarters, though it was hard to tell sometimes (our PA guy needs to step up his game on substitution announcements). Tasha Vipond picked up mop-up minutes.

The stats aren’t great for her, and admittedly she got wrecked by the press, but I thought Sarah Agnello actually played pretty well. She looked the most in control of any of Lafayette's guards. The others were not particularly notable, especially at this late stage. (The catching up has been a nightmare.)

Alexis Santarelli definitely threw her weight around down low. She was able to get baskets close to the rim on offense and make space for her teammates with screens, some rather harder than others. Same deal with Natalie Kucowski, with somewhat less success. They brought a level of physicality to the floor that we couldn't match, even as we outplayed them on the rest of the floor.

So we got to see some of the deep bench in the fourth quarter, and the freshmen definitely need some work. Cecelia Holmberg doesn't have a sense where she needs to be on defense. Sophia Nolan made no impact. Emma Nolan got some good run, but she needs to be less scared to shoot. I don't know how many times we were yelling for her to shoot the ball. She forced three jump balls, and Lafayette had the arrow every time. Points for hustle, but a little help from the universe would be nice.

Unique Drake looks like she's fitting in pretty well. She wasn't spectacular, but I like her driving ability, and she didn't seem to be making too many mistakes. Honestly, sometimes that's what you want to see out of a freshman. I love the energy Leilani Correa brought on defense. She and Alissa Alston ran the backcourt trap and press to perfection. It gave me warm and fuzzy flashbacks of our old defenses. Shamachya Duncan hit a three and the squad rejoiced. Mascot is too strong and too dismissive a word for who she is to this team, but it's clear that she's their favorite.

There is a large part of me that loves Alissa Alston's policy of full body sacrifice, of going hard for loose balls and taking every possible charge. There is another large part of me that wants to scream, "Please stop breaking yourself, Alissa!" every time she measures her length on the hardwood. She's reckless and sometimes a little bit stupid, but I'm pretty sure I'll get used to it. So she'll be the Johnnies' entry in the "most likely to concuss your intrepid blogger via facepalm" contest. Tiana England had a nifty steal that she turned into a fast break lay-up, which makes me wonder why she doesn't do this more often. We keep blaming Joe for the team's tendency to slow things up, but there are times when I think it really is T's problem. Faster is better with this squad. Qadashah Hoppie bombed threes all night and kept the pressure on Lafayette. When she's on, she's so much fun to watch.

Alisha Kebbe continues to be rock solid and an all-around star. I love what she brings to the floor. Kadaja Bailey was the only real disappointment to me in this game. She was consistently a step slow on defense, she took bad shots, she couldn't get a hold of rebounds- basically, it seemed like wherever something went wrong, she was there. I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, and I'm probably exaggerating. But she did not look good, and that worries me. She's a stud, or at least she has the potential to be one, if she uses it properly.

We've got to be better at dealing with physical contact. We have size, and we have players who are physical, but the Venn diagram of those two characteristics is a pair of non-congruent circles at the moment. Lafayette took advantage of that with their posts, and if a middling Patriot team can do that, then I don't know how we're going to deal with Mary Baskerville or Mary Gedaka.

That all being said, we have a lot of firepower if we just use it, and we have a level of depth we haven't had in years. I'm looking forward to seeing how this team develops.

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