Sunday, November 24, 2019

November 22nd, 2019: Wake Forest at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's took control in the second quarter and never fully relinquished the lead in an 82-74 win over Wake Forest. Qadashah Hoppie had 23 points to lead the Red Storm, with Alissa Alston adding 20 points. Gina Conti scored a game-high 25 points before fouling out for Wake Forest.

For getting back on track, rounding up the Usual Suspects, sketchy contests, an insistence on committing unnecessary fouls, loud noises, and pace of play issues, join your intrepid and ever-so-slowly getting it together blogger after the jump.
It's a cold, windy sort of a night here in Queens, and the traffic on Jamaica Avenue is a nightmare. Maybe that's why no one is here to see St. John's take on Wake Forest. Come on, people, it's not like we get Power 5 teams in here every day, even if they're not very good ones.

I salute you, Wake Forest travelers. So long as all y'all stay behind your own bench, we're all good. On the other hand, I would appreciate the Deacs not attempting to pull down our rim. We've only got two, and we kind of need both of them. The sign might be a little overkill too, although nice job matching the gold.

One of the dance team members is walking around in Under Armour gear, and I'm not sure if that's a sign of rebellion or the dance team didn't get included in the Nike deal.

I've just been informed that Alisha Kebbe is not available for this game. I am not okay with this turn of events.

Okay, I am less enthused about the Wake Forest people now that more of them have arrived and there's the distinct possibility that we'll be outnumbered by opposing fans from one of the lowest-tier teams in the ACC. There are high school reinforcements arriving, but I'm not sure whose side they're on. We also seem to have an unexpectedly high student turnout. They must have been storming the dorms for the two games. (Volleyball had Senior Night earlier today and swept Georgetown.) The people in front of us have been warned.

It's 41-28 St. John's at half. Alissa Alston has 16 points to lead the Red Storm. Ivana Raca has 11 to lead the Demon Deacons. When our offense is moving with speed, we're doing well. When we get bogged down by looking like we've never seen a defense before, we run the clock down, take terrible shots, and either hit deep threes or give up rebounds. This does not feel like it should be rocket science.

That got closer than I'd like at the end, and I get the feeling that Coach Tartamella is going to have some long talks with our guard about fouling people in the final minute up three possessions. But our hustle is there. Our hands are there. Our consistency needs some work, but we're a work in progress. I'm okay with that.

Wake Forest used their height well to get rebounds, especially offensive ones. No rebound was safe- if we held it up too long, a Demon Deacon would be there to tip it around. Their execution at the basket needed work, but they were prepared for that eventuality and swarmed the glass.

Ellen Hahne came in at the end of the game when it was pretty much over. Olivia Summiel got similar minutes in the first half, with the addition of a foul. Christina Morra saw spot minutes in the first half as well. I completely failed a perception check and didn't even realize Raegyn Branch checked into the game at any point, so you can tell how much of an impact she made on the game.

Alexandria Scruggs brought size at the guard spot- she was able to body up less substantial defenders to get to the basket. If she could finish when she got there, she'd have been even more effective. Anaia Hoard got her first name pronounced a couple of different ways and launched threes. Pretty stroke, but when the ball came off her hands it was going every which way. Maya Banks has elbows and she's not afraid to use them. She was physical, and she caused us problems with her size. That was sort of a theme of the night.

Ona Udoh plays even taller than she is. Her hands were very busy, especially on the offensive glass. She erased a Leilani Correa shot like it had been retconned out of the timeline. Either I missed some fouls or some got reallocated without an announcement, because she went from two fouls to four fouls without appearing to have been called for a third foul. She eventually fouled out of the game, so that was important, but she didn't seem to object, so I guess she figured she had committed five fouls. Alex Sharp probably had the best dance moves of anyone on Wake Forest, and demonstrated the utility of such with a nifty step-through and turn along the baseline for a basket. Hugging the opposing player during the game crosses the line of acceptable behavior, though. They list her as a guard, but against us she definitely played more like a post. Ivana Raca laid a painful block on Tiana England (that might have been one of the ones at the end of the shot clock, but we'll get to a more detailed discussion of the Red Storm offense later, when I've stopped swearing a little bit) and demonstrated good touch from the midrange and at the basket.

Gina Conti never stopped playing. Even when all seemed lost, she kept driving and drawing fouls. She picked up three cheap points when Alissa Alston inexplicably fouled her on a three-point heave at the end of the shot clock. She made a really great defensive play to save a loose ball (I think that was the one where she whacked it straight off Alissa's chest, which looked painful but was undeniably effective). Kaia Harrison was the crowd favorite of the Wake Forest fans; she's from Long Island and brought a very large contingent that cheered only for her. It was, frankly, offensive; Our Girls Syndrome is one of my least favorite parts of basketball, but I can sort of meet OGS sufferers halfway if they at least pretend to care about their darling's whole team. These folks roared like crazy when Harrison was announced as a starter, then went quiet as church mice the rest of the way. She scored a couple of free throws, but hit no field goals, and there is a very petty part of me that is happy about that. She's got good speed, and if she can get some of the wonkiness out of her shot she'll be good offensively.

When momentum sits on a knife-edge: at the end of the first quarter, Wake Forest was down three, with the ball, and Harrison threw up a heave that bounced twice and didn't go in. If that buzzer-beater had gone in to tie the game and get the Long Island contingent going, I think the game would have gone very differently. We really didn't take control until the fourth quarter, and Wake Forest could have easily seized control in the second if they had that kind of momentum behind them.

Sophia Nolan and Shamachya Duncan picked up a couple of stray minutes in the first half. I'm pleasantly surprised by this, and at Joe's increased use of the bench this year in general. Sometimes mop-up minutes at the end of the first half are even more useful than the ones in the second half. Cecelia Holmberg got to take free throws today, and good grief there is a funkiness to her release that hurts my soul. The 19th century called; they want their set shot back. It's not present in her jumper, from what I saw. Her defense needs work. It needs a lot of work. She'll get there eventually, but she's not there now.

Unique Drake has got to finish at the rim. She wasn't great, but she wasn't as terrible as the non-existent stat line would indicate. She showed off some fancy passing. Leilani Correa's height was useful for us, and she did a good job getting to the line. Her release is slower than I'd like, and it got her shot blocked at least once. I love what she does when the defense presses, although we didn't use it as much as we did against Lafayette, which I think was a mistake. There are a few things I have issues with in this game, despite the victory, but we'll get to that in the wrap-up.

Kadaja Bailey's offense decided to join us this evening, including one spectacular bucket off an alley-oop from Tiana England. Her defense is still lagging, though; she's getting bodied by wider players, run by by quicker players, and losing the ball to taller players. I know she's better than the way she's started this season, but she looks badly lost. We've got you, K, but you've got to step up, especially if Alisha is out for any length of time. Emma Nolan stepped up to the challenge; while I'd still like to see her be less hesitant to shoot, she answered any questions I might have had about her toughness and her ability to use her build. She was aggressive and physical (almost to a fault- there's no tackling in basketball, and we're not even a football school). Her "hurray, I have forced a held ball, but alas, the arrow belongs to the other team" count is now up to at least four, just based on home games. She did a great job of matching Wake Forest's ability to knock the ball away from our rebounders.

Alissa Alston is going to kill me one of these days. Either that or I'm going to jump the rail and dope slap her upside the head, which I realize is not appropriate but at times feels distressingly necessary. I love her willingness to take the charge, but if she's going to do that, she has to get into position earlier and not still be in motion when the offensive player arrives. (I was in the minority regarding the block call. Other St. John's partisans felt it should have been a charge.) And when she committed the foul on the Conti three at the end of the third, I thought my head was going to explode. She's got swagger when she hits the deep threes, and full body sacrifice is a fantastic defensive philosophy I never want her to give up. I just need her to occasionally be more sensible, preferably before she breaks something. Tiana England showed off some flashy passing (I refer the reader back to the alley-oop to Kadaja) and got buckets off steals and fast breaks. But the offense got bogged down late, and once again I'm not sure if the problem is with her or with Joe. Qadashah Hoppie got off to another hot start, driving the lane and getting her points. She picked up the pace again in the fourth to help put the Deacs away. She, like most of the rest of the team, was better offensively when she was playing with a faster pace.

So we have to talk about the stupid fouls, don't we? Because this would have been a double-digit win if we hadn't gifted fouled Wake Forest on three different shots in the final minute and sent them to the line. Common sense, kids. Learn when to back off. Now, Leilani is a freshman, and she gets a partial pass. But Tiana and Alissa have no such excuse.

We also have to talk about the offense. Now, I do appreciate that there are times and reasons to slow down the offense and burn clock. And I understand that it's early in the season and we're incorporating four freshmen and a transfer who hasn't seen Red Storm game action before this year. I do understand these things. But at the same time, it's painfully obvious that when the offense slows down, everything goes horribly wrong. Everyone loses their willingness to shoot, the opposing defense has a chance to get set, and we look like we've never seen a live defense before in our lives. Like, yes, guys, the other team is allowed to play defense while you're running clock.

Officiating was inconsistent, but it was equal, or even in the Red Storm's favor. I can deal with that, I guess.

The kids who won the three-legged race cheated; they were barely tied together at all!

The "Red Storm Warning" klaxon is cute, although maybe we should not activate it while people are standing right next to it. Alex Sharp got an earful of it. But can we please dump the hype man? He doesn't bring anything to the table and is extremely annoying.

There's a lot of potential here, and for the first time in a while, I'm really optimistic about this team. We'll just never have to have a game with a margin between 15 and 30.

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