Monday, January 18, 2016

Sessions' Late Free Throw Allows South Carolina to Survive Texas A&M

After a heavy morning rain, the clouds subsided and the sun came out in Columbia, South Carolina on Sunday, just in time for the Gamecocks to face the #15 Aggies of Texas A&M,  It was the third game of an eleven game gauntlet for South Carolina where they face nine ranked teams over the span, including finishing up with five ranked teams in a row.

Sun, Jan 10 - 83-58 win over #20 Missouri
Thu, Jan 14 - 73-62 win at #9 Kentucky
Sun, Jan 17 vs #15 Texas A&M
Thu, Jan 21 @ Auburn
Sun, Jan 24 @ #7 Mississippi State
Thu, Jan 28 vs Ole Miss
Sun, Jan 31 @ #15 Texas A&M
Thu, Feb 4 vs #9 Kentucky
Mon, Feb 8 vs #1 Connecticut
Thu, Feb 11 vs #20 Florida
Mon, Feb 15 @ #13 Tennessee

That's not a schedule for the faint of heart. The crowd of 15,406 that packed Colonial Life Arena for the 12:30 PM EST was ready for the third game in this brutal stretch of games for the #2 Gamecocks. So were the #15 Aggies.

Before the game started, South Carolina Junior Center Alaina Coates was awarded a ball for scoring her 1000th career point in the home win over Missouri a week ago.  Coates had a double double in the win over the Tigers.

Texas A&M, similar to #20 Missouri when they played the South Carolina, came out physical against the Gamecocks.  However, unlike the Tigers, the Aggies matched their physicality with athleticism and hot shooting.  Behind guard Courtney Walker's hot shooting, Texas A&M jumped out to a quick 13-6 lead.  

But South Carolina responded with a 10-0 run over the next five plus minutes. Tiffany Mitchell had four points and an assist during that spurt, which was capped by a Coates layup to put the Gamecocks up 16-13.  But Texas A&M responded with the last four points of the quarter to take a 17-16 lead. 

In the second quarter, the teams traded leads six times over the ten minute period.  After A'ja Wilson gave South Carolina a 26-25 lead, Wilson followed up with a block of a Courtney Williams layup attempt on the other end.  It appeared that the Gamecocks would run down the clock for the last shot in the second quarter, but Khadijah Sessions dribbled into traffic and Walker stole the ball and went the length of the court, laying the ball in before the buzzer sounded.  Texas A&M was up 27-26 at the half.

It was clearly a test of wills in the first half as Texas A&M collapsed on the South Carolina bigs, Wilson and Coates.  But Coach Dawn Staley continued to have the Gamecocks work the ball inside, knowing the high percentage shot is usually the best shot.  

So while the Aggies were able to bottle up Coates the whole game, Wilson became their go to player. That's due in part that the six foot four Wilson is so athletic, she can take the ball from the free throw line and drive to the basket.  She scored the Gamecocks last eight points in the first half.  And the game plan didn't change at the start of the second half as Wilson scored the first six points for the Gamecocks.   Her layup put South Carolina up 32-29.    Coates followed with a layup of her own and the score was 34-29.

But Texas A&M once again was resilient, as they responded with an 8-0 spurt.  Jordan Jones was responsible for six of those points, a three pointer and an old fashioned three point play, which gave the Aggies a 36-34 lead.  Chelsea Jennings capped the run with a layup and the Aggies led 38-34.  But Sessions responded with a layup of her own to cut the deficit to two to end the third quarter.

Sessions' layup would be the start of a 9-2 run for the Gamecocks.  Wilson and Mitchell would each hit two free throws and then Bianca Cuevas buried a three pointer to put South Carolina up 43-40.  A few minutes later, a Sessions layup would extend the lead to four, 46-42.   However, Jordan Jones would nail a three pointer and follow with a layup to put A&M back in front 47-46 with a little over six minutes left in the game.

But once again, the Gamecocks responded with another 9-2 spurt.  It started with a Cuevas three point play and ended with Wilson scoring the last three points on a layup, then later by hitting one of two free throws.  Colonial Life Arena was rocking as South Carolina went up 55-49 with two and a half minutes left in the game.

The Aggies would not quit, cutting the lead to two, 55-53 with Anriel Howard and Walker assisting each other on baskets.  However Wilson would respond with a layup and one.  She missed the free throw though and the Gamecocks were back up four 57-53 with 1:14 left in the game.

South Carolina would have chances to put the game away.  But Mitchell turned the ball over with about 30 seconds left in the game.  Walker would hit two free throws after on foul on Sessions to cut the deficit to two, 57-55 with twenty seconds left.  

After getting fouled, Mitchell had a chance to possibly put the game away but missed both free throw attempts.   A&M had a chance to tie with four seconds left but Jones missed a free throw of her own.  Jones hit the second and the score was 57-56.  The Aggies fouled Sessions, who missed the first free throw but hit the second to put the Gamecocks up two, 58-56 with three seconds left.  We now had the setup for one of the wildest endings to any basketball game this season.

Off the inbounds pass, the Aggies' Taylor Cooper was able to find Jennings on an outlet pass and she was able to lay the ball in to tie the game at 58 with one second.  But with the game tied, on the South Carolina inbounds pass Texas A&M's Shlonte Allen, who was seeing her first minutes of the game, inexplicably grabbed Sessions as she was trying to drive down the court.   Allen was called for the foul, and lucky for A&M's head coach Gary Blair, Allen wasn't called for an intentional foul, as she made no attempt to go after the ball.   The brain freeze on Allen resulted in two free throw attempts for Sessions to win the game with .8 seconds left.

However, Sessions added to the excitement of the finish by missing the first free throw.  With the crowd imploring her, Sessions hit the second free throw to put South Carolina up 59-58.  Mitchell would then steal the desperation inbounds pass at mid court and the Gamecocks held on for a truly exciting 59-58 victory.

Wilson was dominant the entire game for the Gamecocks and nearly had a triple double with twenty six points, eight rebounds and eight blocks.  Mitchell was the only other South Carolina player in double figures scoring with eleven points.  Cuevas had nine points, Sessions added eight and Coates was held to five points, though she had eleven rebounds.

The three guard attack for Texas A&M - Jones, Walker and Jennings each scored in double figures and combined for forty seven of the Aggies' fifty eight points.  The Aggies actually out-rebounded the Gamecocks 43-33, which included seventeen offensive rebounds.

The Gamecocks survived the third game of their gauntlet and now go on the road to face Auburn, a pretty respectable 12-6 team with a 2-3 conference record.  One of those wins was earlier in the conference season over #7 Kentucky.  

Such is the life in the SEC.  Even the unranked teams are pretty darn good.

Monday, January 11, 2016

South Carolina's Strong Defensive Start Dooms Missouri

The #20 Missouri Tigers had to be telling themselves yesterday, "If we can come out strong against South Carolina, we've got a chance to win."   In the Gamecocks last several games, especially against SEC conference foes Arkansas and Vanderbilt, #2 South Carolina struggled out of the gate.  Against the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks were tied at nine after one quarter.  Against the Commodores, the Gamecocks were tied at halftime and were losing late in the third quarter before rallying to win.

So it only seemed natural for the Tigers to feel a strong start would go a long way.  During warm-ups, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, noted that Missouri seemed to have a lot of players practicing, more than South Carolina (two bench players have the left the Gamecocks in the last week, leaving them with eleven players, still plenty given their talent).   Matthew and I would find out within a few minutes of game action why that was the case.

As for the Tigers hoping for a sluggish start from their opponent, too bad Dawn Staley had her Gamecocks ready from the get go.

The home crowd of 15,934 that packed Colonial Life Arena yesterday seemed to pump life into South Carolina from tip-off.   The Gamecocks height and athleticism on defense frustrated the Tigers immediately in the first quarter.  In the first seven and a half minutes of the first quarter, Missouri missed all thirteen shots from the field and turned the ball over four times.

Meanwhile, it was obvious what Missouri's game plan was on defense.  Physical defense that would have made Bruiser Flint proud.  They picked up seven fouls in the first five and half plus minutes in the game.  My color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, commented that we were going to see at least one Missouri player foul out and noted "So that's why they have so many players!"

Meanwhile, South Carolina was able to slog their way through Missouri's physical play to score enough points to make a difference early on.  Alaina Coates hit a three point play to put the Gamecocks up to stay 3-0.  Neither team would score for the next three plus minutes as the Gamecocks missed on five straight shots. Finally,  Khadijah Sessions would score on four free throws, sandwiching a three point play by Tiffany Mitchell and a free throw from Alaina Coates.  South Carolina was up 11-0 with four plus minutes left in the first quarter.

During this time, Missouri Freshman Sophie Cunningham "enamored" herself with the Gamecocks fans due to her physical play, especially one fan behind us in Section 115.  That fan kept yelling at the top of her lungs "SOOOPHIE!", among other things.

Missouri finally made a basket from Kayla Robinson nearly eight minutes into the first quarter. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 17-5.

The Tigers came out scoring in the second quarter with five quick points, including a three pointer by Maddie Stock to cut the lead to ten, 20-10.   But the Gamecocks would respond with a 13-2 run over the next nearly five minutes. Mitchell would lead the way, scoring six of those thirteen points.  Her two free throws would cap the run and make the score 33-12.   South Carolina would end up leading at halftime 35-17.  Missouri almost had as many fouls, SIXTEEN, as points, seventeen.

The start of the second half saw Missouri come out strong from the locker room.   The Tigers outscored the Gamecocks 12-4 over the first minute and a half.  Sophie Cunningham continued to ingratiate herself with the Gamecock faithful, scoring a basket to cut the lead to ten 39-29.

After a Coates basket that put South Carolina up twelve, Mitchell took over from there.  She scored the next seven straight points; a layup assisted by Tina Roy, a three pointer again assisted by Roy and then finally, she took matters in her own hands.  Mitchell stole the ball and drove in for a layup.  The Gamecocks were back up nineteen 48-29 and the game was over for all intensive purposes.

Except for the fan that was "enamored" with Sophie Cunningham.  Sophie would pick up her third foul midway through the third quarter, which ended with South Carolina up 56-34.  In the fourth quarter, she would quickly pick up fouls four and five which resulted in our fan yelling "BYE SOPHIE!!"

As Matt had predicted, a Missouri player fouled out.  In fact, two fouled out, as Jordan Frericks fouled out later.  Missouri would use THIRTEEN players in the game, as the entire team picked up thirty four fouls.  South Carolina took full advantage, hitting on thirty two of their forty three free throw attempts in the 83-58 drubbing of Missouri.

Mitchell led all scorers with nineteen points, shooting eight of nine from the free throw line. Coates and Wilson each had double doubles.  Coates had thirteen points and twelve rebounds, while Wilson had eleven points, eleven rebounds and six blocks.  Jatarie White came off the bench for the Gamecocks and added eleven points.
Missouri was held to thirty one percent from the field, including four of twenty one from beyond the arc, as South Carolina's overall team height and quickness were too much for the Tigers.  Only Ciera Porter was in double figures scoring for Missouri with ten points.

With the win, the Gamecocks are now 15-0 on the season and have matched the #22 undefeated men's team in record.   Both teams are now a combined 30-0 on the season, a truly remarkable fact given conference play for men's and women's basketball is already a week old.

The schedule doesn't get any easier for South Carolina.  They play another two ranked teams in a row.  First, a road match-up with #10 Kentucky and then a home game vs. #13 Texas A&M.  

But if they come out and play defense as well as they did against #20 Missouri, it won't matter who they play. The Gamecocks look primed for another SEC conference championship.

A strong start always helps.






















Sunday, January 3, 2016

Roy Drives The Gamecock Truck that Runs over Arkansas


South Carolina entered its SEC conference opener against Arkansas on Sunday ranked #2 and undefeated at 12-0.  Combined with the men's basketball team's 13-0 start and Columbia, South Carolina was home to the best combined women's and men's college basketball teams' record in the country at 25-0.  This was not lost on the 13,407 fans in attendance at Colonial Life Arena, which was pretty much the same size crowd for the men's win over Memphis the day prior.

While Dawn Staley's Gamecocks entered Sunday's contest humming along, the Razorbacks seemingly have found themselves having won their last two contests.  Before that though, Arkansas had lost eight of their eleven non conference games.  Of all the SEC teams, only LSU also had a losing record entering Sunday.

Jimmy Dykes is in his second season of head coaching Arkansas.   Dykes came to the Razorbacks from a college basketball analyst position with ESPN and the Arkansas job was his first ever women's basketball coaching position.  But prior to his solid work at ESPN (he was one of my favorite college basketball analysts along with Mark Adams),  Dykes had a long history of being an assistant coach under several different men's basketball college programs, including three times under Eddie Sutton, his former coach at Arkansas.  He even was a scout in the NBA for three years before joining ESPN.

In his first season, Dykes took the Razorbacks to just their second NCAA Tournament in eleven seasons and even won their first round game over Northwestern.  He brought in the #20 recruiting class in the country for his second season.  But his young team struggled in a tough non conference schedule and entered the game with a 5-8 record. 

As has been the case often with the Gamecocks this season, South Carolina started out slow and struggled from the field, missing on ten of their first twelve field goal attempts.  Tina Roy had several open looks early on from the outside but couldn't knock them down.  Her effort would be rewarded later though.

Arkansas worked hard on both ends of the court, especially defensively and actually had the lead at 9-7 before Khadijah Sessions tied the game with a layup. The Razorbacks actually made four of their first nine field goal attempts.  The first quarter ended in a nine all tie.

From there, everything went downhill for Dykes and the Razorbacks.  Downhill real fast.

The Gamecocks started the second quarter with nine straight points.  Tiffany Mitchell buried a three pointer, then Roy followed with one of her own.  After South Carolina forced a shot clock violation on Arkansas, Roy buried her second three pointer and just like that the score was 18-9 South Carolina.

Arkansas would get a three pointer of their own by Jordan Danberry to cut the lead to six, 18-12.  That was as close as Arkansas would get the rest of the way.

The Gamecocks would score the next eleven points as Alaina Coates and A'ja Wilson would combine for eight of those points and Mitchell would add her second three pointer of the game.  South Carolina was now up 29-12 with 4:15 left in the quarter.

The Razorbacks best player, Jessica Jackson, ended the Gamecocks run with her second basket of the game to make the score 29-14.  Jackson would only score two more baskets the rest of the way.  Arkansas would score another basket on a Devin Gosper jumper, to cut the score to thirteen, 29-16.

From there, the Gamecocks would go on another run, this time a 15-2 spurt over the last three plus minutes of the second quarter.  South Carolina's reserve dynamo, Bianca Cuevas, led the spurt with eight points including knocking down a three to end the half with the Gamecocks up 44-18.

At the half, my friend and fellow Mid Majority 800 Games recap writer, Ian McCormick, joined me at my season tickets seats since my older son Matthew decided to stay at home.  Matt missed one heck of a second half start for the Gamecocks.

At the start of the second half, South Carolina picked up right where they left off, scoring the first sixteen points of the third quarter.  The Gamecocks hit on six of their first seven shots, including four three pointers, one by Sessions, and three by Roy.   Roy's fifth three pointer of the game gave South Carolina a 60-18 lead.

After Keiryn Swenson briefly ended the Gamecocks run with a basket, Roy responded with her sixth three pointer of the day, giving South Carolina a truly commanding 63-20 lead.  Dawn Staley was so impressed, she had to call timeout, perhaps to give her shooters a breather.

The timeout didn't cool off Roy.  She would nail her seventh three pointer later to cap the Gamecocks scoring for the third quarter.  After three quarters, South Carolina was up 73-25.

In the last ten minutes of the game, South Carolina made a concerted effort to get the ball to Coates and Wilson, who made the most of their scoring opportunities.  They combined to score nine of the Gamecocks twelve fourth quarter points.   South Carolina would again hold Arkansas under ten points for the fourth straight quarter, winning the game 85-32.  Now both South Carolina basketball teams were 13-0 on the season.

The Gamecocks had five players in double figures scoring and nearly a sixth with Sarah Imovbioh chipping in nine points.  Roy led all scorers with twenty one points, all on three pointers.  Wilson and Coates each notched double doubles.  Wilson had fourteen points and ten rebounds while Coates had eleven points and ten rebounds. Mitchell had twelve points and Cuevas added ten points.

Despite the wretched start, the Gamecocks shot fifty two percent from the field and forty seven percent from beyond the arc (11 of 23).  They had fifteen offensive rebounds and eighteen assists.   They held the Razorbacks to twenty four percent from the field and Arkansas only hit on one of their twelve three point attempts.  No player on the Razorbacks scored in double figures.  Jackson had nine points and Melissa Wolff had nine for Arkansas.  South Carolina forced eighteen Arkansas turnovers.  The only negative stat for the Gamecocks was that they were 8 of 13 from the charity stripe.  

Afterwards, Jimmy Dykes had to feel that his team was run over by a tractor trailer truck.  If he wanted to know the license plate number, it was South Carolina 23.

That's the jersey worn by Tina Roy.



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hofstra Rallies to Win The "Jordan Allen Invitational"

On Monday night, Hofstra hosted 1-9 Sacred Heart in the last non-conference game for the Pride before the start of the CAA conference schedule on Thursday vs. Delaware.   It was also the return of Jordan Allen to the Mack Center.  Allen played two seasons for Hofstra before transferring to the Pioneers.  


Just like their 68-54 win over now 2-10 Florida Atlantic, the Pride would struggle against a seemingly lesser opponent.  An opponent whose only win came in their first game of the season, a win over fellow Connecticut school Quinnipiac.    It was the same old song for the Pride, a lack of defense, a lack of bench play and bad shot selection that was nearly their undoing.

Early on, it was a back and forth affair.  Cane Broome, who was the best player on the court for nearly the entire game, scored the first five Pioneers' points.  Sean Hoehn's three pointer would give Sacred Heart an early 10-8 lead.   But Hofstra's Brian Bernardi answered with two three pointers of his own to put the Pride back in front 14-10.


Next it was a battle of the big men.  Rokas Gustys, who was a force inside all night for Hofstra, would score the Pride's next nine points.  His layup on an assist from Juan'ya Green would put the Pride up 23-19.  However, Sacred Heart's Eyimofe Edukugho, a senior from Nigeria who only averages five points per game, would keep his team in the game, scoring six straight points.  His layup, assisted by Allen would cut the Pride lead to two, 23-21.  Then Allen assisted again on Quincy McKnight's layup and one, which would put the Pioneers up briefly 24-23.   Ameen Tanksley would then hit one of his few baskets all night, a three pointer that put Hofstra up 26-24 with 8:05 left in the half.

It was over the last eight minutes of the half that we would see the Pride's three biggest weaknesses come into play.   First, Sacred Heart would score fifteen of their last seventeen points on layups as the Pride's tallest player on the court for most of that time was the six foot six Nichols as Gustys would pick up his second foul during this time and head to the bench.   Cane Broome would score six straight points, all on layups,  to give the Pioneers a 30-26 lead.  Later, Allen would score five straight points, including a three point play to extend the Sacred Heart lead to eight, 37-29.  


During this time, the Pride went ice cold from the field, or more specifically, from beyond the three point arc.  Abandoning the strong inside work of Gustys, Hofstra settled for shooting, or better yet, clanking three pointers.  They would miss six out of their last seven three point attempts in the half.  The Pride did manage an 8-2 run thanks to Bernardi and Green attacking the basket.   Green's two free throws would cut the deficit to two before Broome's last layup of the first half gave the Pioneers a 41-37 halftime lead.

The first half stats showed the Pride's weaknesses. Sacred Heart would shoot 18 of 32 from the field and out rebounded Hofstra 21-13.  The Pride were also an abysmal 5 of 18 from beyond the arc in the first half.  Thus your halftime score.


You would have figured that Hofstra would have made some halftime adjustments and fix both ends of their play for the start of the second half.   

You thought wrong.


The Pioneers would out score the Pride 9-2 at the start of the second half, as they continued to score at will inside.  Meanwhile Hofstra would turn the ball over twice and miss two outside jumpers.  Their only points during the span came on two Bernardi free throws.  An Edukugho layup would give Sacred Heart their biggest lead of the game, eleven at 50-39.

Down eleven and staring at possibly the worst loss of the season so far for Hofstra, the light bulb came on for the Pride as they remembered their inside game.   Green and Gustys pounded the paint for layups and the Pride cut the deficit to four, 54-50.   But Gustys would pick up his third and fourth fouls and he again headed to the bench.  The lack of the Pride's best post player stymied their run and Sacred Heart would maintain the lead.  


Broome and Allen would combine for six points over a ninety second span.  Broome would have twenty five points with 9:38 left in the game and then assist on an Allen layup that gave Sacred Heart a 65-58 lead with 8:42 left in the game.   

But Broome would never score again.   Yes, you know what happens next.


Over a span of a little more than four minutes, the Pride would go on a 14-1 run, thanks in large part to Green driving the lane for several points and Bernardi burying two three pointers.  Green's layup would give the Pride a 72-66 lead with 4:27 left in the game. 

Allen would keep the Pioneers in the game with two free throws and later a Matej Buovac three pointer would cut the deficit to three, 76-73.  But Green would end the game with four free throws and the Pride escaped with an 80-73 win.


Broome led all scorers with twenty five points, but his game ending scoring drought over the last nine and a half minutes doomed the Pioneers, who lost their sixth game of the season by nine points or less.  Edukugho, a reserve player who had scored no more than eleven points in a game in his career, the opening game of the season win over Quinnipiac, scored seventeen points in sixteen minutes of action.   Allen added eleven points and four assists, showing off the passing skills he had in his first two seasons with Hofstra.   Sacred Heart, who has played nine of their eleven games on the road so far on the season, shot a very solid forty eight percent from the field.

For the Pride, Green led the way with twenty two points, six assists and five rebounds, shooting six of twelve from the field and ten of thirteen from the line.  It was by far his best game in quite a while.  Bernardi added eighteen points, while Gustys had a double double with seventeen points and ten rebounds.  When Gustys scores in double figures, the Pride are 6-0.  Denton Koon added ten points.  Tanksley, who came in as one of the top scorers in the CAA had a very off night, only scoring seven points on two of nine from the field.


The Pride had an terrible night shooting from beyond the arc, as they went eight of twenty seven.  They had much better success from two point range, shooting eighteen of thirty five.   They made up for their lack of success from beyond the arc by going to the line twenty nine times, making twenty of those attempts.

However, two numbers stand out from the game. Sacred Heart had forty two points in the paint. FORTY TWO.  And the Hofstra bench, what there is of it, scored six points.  

Combine those numbers with the Pride's woeful three point shooting and you had the near win by the now 1-10 Pioneers.    The Pride are 263 in the country in two point field goal percentage defense, allowing 51.7 percent per game.  A lot of this has to do with their lack of footwork on the defensive end.  


But also some of it has to do with their shot block percentage defense, ranked #300 in the country.    Yet Sophomore Andre Walker, a six foot ten forward who had three or more blocks in four games last season and who had four blocks and ten rebounds against Wagner last season, another NEC opponent, didn't play at all last night.  Surely Walker could have come in late in the first half when Gustys had to go with the bench with two fouls.    Walker plays thirteen minutes vs. Florida State yet none against Sacred Heart?  Come on.

I've said a lot of things about Tom Pecora over the years, but one thing his Hofstra teams did was play defense and usually had a shot blocking presence like Adrian Uter or Greg Washington.  With Walker barely playing, this team has neither.


And the Pride bench last night was basically Malik Nichols, who scored all six bench points for the Pride, and Desure Buie, who played ten minutes but didn't score.  Justin Wright Foreman played one minute, Walker of course didn't play at all and Jamall Robinson, who averaged nearly ten points a game as a freshman and contributed significant minutes off the bench for Hofstra as a sophomore, is seemingly redshirted for the season.   

I can tell you this much.  They could sure use Allen.   A big man who can pass and shoots high percentage shots (shooting fifty two percent from the field on the season).


I've watched CAA games and gone to many CAA Tournaments the past fifteen years.  Simply put, you can't consistently win in the CAA with a two man bench, especially trying to win three games in three days in Baltimore in March.  

You can't. 


Over the past three games I've watched in person; Stony Brook, Florida Atlantic and now Sacred Heart, I've talked to several Hofstra fans, whether in our seats or talking with them in the stands during halftime etc.  They have the same complaints, so I know it's not just me.  Lack of defense, a lack of commitment to an inside game, too three point happy and a lack of a bench.  It doesn't sound like a recipe for winning the CAA Tournament, which Hofstra was predicted to at the beginning of the season.

The Pride needs to realize these things fast and try to fix them.   Conference play starts Thursday at home vs. Delaware.  

Whether they act on them is another matter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Daly Dose of Hoops Scouting Report on Red Storm for South Carolina vs.St John's.

As we do at least once a year, my good friend Jaden Daly of "Daly Dose of Hoops" and I guest blog on each other's site. With South Carolina and St John's playing each other tonight at the Mohegan Sun Arena,  I am doing a scouting report of South Carolina on Jaden's site today, while Jaden is scouting St John's on my site.  No one and I mean NO ONE, knows St John's better than Jaden Daly and his fellow staff at Daly Dose of Hoops.  Enjoy.

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Hi everyone, Jaden Daly from Daly Dose of Hoops here again, this time giving you a closer look at the St. John's Red Storm as they prepare to take on South Carolina this Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena. My staff and I have already seen the Red Storm several times this season and  have gotten to observe closely the rebuilding process in Queens, with equal flashes of brilliance and growing pains for a young roster.

Game Reviews and Quotes

Starting Guards
This is where St. John's is arguably its most experienced, despite its point guard being a freshman. Federico Mussini, a native of Italy, is the rookie in the backcourt, but is the team's leading scorer and passer, and has pulled down a solid three rebounds per game on average. There are times in which he looks to do a little bit too much, but that is not unusual for freshmen at this stage of their first seasons at the collegiate level, so I expect him to make progress on that front. The one knock on Mussini is that he struggles against pressure, which is optimal for South Carolina in that they can get him rattled early and off his game, but when he is in a groove, he's one of the best shooters on the floor. Mussini reminds me a lot of Branden Frazier, who you may remember from his days at Fordham. A combo guard forced into running the point out of necessity (Marcus LoVett being declared ineligible forced St. John's to play Mussini at point guard), results in sometimes his shooting instincts taking over more than they should.

The Red Storm have added a pair of fifth-year seniors to ease the burden on Mussini, and each one has given credibility and experience to the roster in Queens. Durand Johnson, formerly of Pittsburgh, is a reputable outside shooter with a knack for rebounding that is above average for a guard, while Missouri State transfer Ron Mvouika has translated his combination of marksmanship and floor savvy into becoming one of the better wings in the Big East. On their best efforts, either is capable of going for 20 points and 10 rebounds, although you're more likely to see those numbers when you add up their combined stat lines as opposed to expecting it from one individually.

Starting Forwards
If there's one thing the rebuilding process has done for St. John's, it has been the showcase of Christian Jones. Once left for dead on the bench under former coach Steve Lavin, Jones has resurrected himself into a serviceable big man through the first month of the season, averaging over eight points and five rebounds per game. Jones will not overpower you, but he will definitely have no problem bumping and banging for position in the lane. His interior partner, Yankuba Sima, is what the Red Storm envisioned Chris Obekpa to be, only better. At 6-11, Sima is a legitimate NBA prospect if and when he does take his talents to the next level, and what sets him apart from Obekpa is his offensive prowess. Whereas his predecessor was merely a shot blocker and not much else, Sima has flourished on the offensive end, averaging nearly nine points and seven rebounds per game to go with his three-plus rejections. The big man also shoots 49 percent from the field, a respectable number for a freshman center.

Bench
St. John's will only play four reserves, and the fourth one just returned from injury on Friday when Malik Ellison rejoined the team after missing eight games due to a foot injury. Ellison, whose father, Pervis, was a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, is still trying to find his way after the injury, but had projected to be one of the Red Storm's better options before he went down. Guard Felix Balamou is by far the most seasoned of the reserves, having spent three years in the Lavin regime. When on his best effort, he is capable of doing a little bit of everything, and his averages of seven points and five rebounds per game are career bests. Amar Alibegovic will be two games removed from his finest hour in the win over Syracuse, and the sophomore carries a high-energy presence and deceptively strong shot when inserted into the rotation. Finally, freshman Kassoum Yakwe has shown the most potential since being cleared to compete at the beginning of the month. Lauded for his above-the-rim capabilities, Yakwe has come out of the blocks with 36 points in his first five games, and appears to be gaining traction as he adapts to both his role and the college game.

Strengths and Weaknesses
First and foremost, St. John's most glaring weakness is its youth. Secondly, their bipolar nature early in the season has led some to wonder whether or not their most impressive performances were more fleeting than initially suspected, as they have followed up impressive wins over Rutgers and Syracuse with inexplicable blowout losses to Vanderbilt and Incarnate Word. However, a major strength of the Red Storm is that they are usually in every game they play for a majority of minutes. Chris Mullin and his staff have gotten more out of their patchwork roster than arguably anyone could have hoped at this point in the season, and after a 32-point exhibition loss to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas that left everyone in New York scratching their heads and anticipating a long winter, they have acquitted themselves quite well with Big East play looming on the horizon.

Coaching
Chris Mullin remains a rookie on the bench, but what he lacks in experience, his staff has mounds of. Barry Rohrssen, best known for his five-year bridge between Bobby Gonzalez and Steve Masiello at Manhattan, is Mullin's associate head coach, and has enough of an X-and-O pedigree to utilize his talent to the best of his ability. Assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who sat in the same stadium and arena management class at St. John's as I did a decade ago, has a reputation for being a recruiter above all, but his in-game ability should be heralded more often after spending the past few years on the staff of Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State before "The Mayor" moved on to the Chicago Bulls. Third assistant Greg St. Jean brings NBA championship cache from the Golden State Warriors, where Mullin made his professional hay alongside the other member of his coaching staff, Mitch Richmond, who serves as the special assistant to the head coach.

Overall
A work in progress, as is everyone else in the non-league portion of the schedule, St. John's has already proven its mettle against fellow high-major teams, but by the same token, have come up flat against low and mid-majors at various points in the year. Mullin and his staff have not shied away from the fact that they are willing to sacrifice the win-loss record this year for the greater good, being content to live with the results as they see their process of rebuilding a winner through. Within the next two years, this team will start to make noise on a national level again, but in the meantime, they will face a stiff test as they gain battle experience. The heart of the Red Storm will go a long way, though, and it would not surprise me to see this game stay close inside the final five minutes.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Stony Brook Outworks Hofstra, Holds on to Win 71-68

Last season, Hofstra and Stony Brook renewed their rivalry after a few years of not playing each other.   The Pride won last year's "Battle of Long Island" on a last second shot by Dion Nesmith 66-65 at Mack Arena.   It stood to reason that this year's "Battle of Long Island" game would come down to the final seconds and sure enough it did.

This year's game was at Stony Brook's recently renovated Island Federal Credit Union Arena, which seats 4,000.   It was my first time in the recently renovated arena.  The last time I was at Stony Brook's arena was for Stony Brook's NIT appearance against Illinois back in March, 2010 (http://midmajorhoopsbb.blogspot.com/2010/03/stony-brook-shows-hows-its-done.html).  The arena was then renovated and the Seawolves played their games at cozy Pritchard Gym until last season.
It's a very nice arena and it reminds me a lot of Davidson's Belk Arena, which seats a little more at 5100.

Yes, I'm back in NY for a couple of weeks for the holiday season visiting family and friends.  And of course, to catch some local area New York basketball.  This was the first of at least four games I plan to attend, all Hofstra games.  My friends Tieff and Mal joined me for yesterday festivities.  It was good to have the whole gang back together again as we got to our seats right before the game started.  Thanks to Tieff buying a mini plan, we had good seats in Row K Section 109.

The game started off very physical with Rokas Gustys battling Stony Brook's best player, senior Jameel Warney.  Considering all the work putting into the Freedom of Movement Rules by the NCAA, it was surprising to see all the physicality early on that was allowed by the referees.  After the Seawolves took a 6-5 lead on a Jameel Warney layup, one of his few first half baskets, the Pride responded with an 8-0 run capped by back to back threes by Brian Bernardi and took a 13-6 lead.  However, during this time, Hofstra star guard Juan'ya Green picked up two quick fouls. Stony Brook had their own foul trouble though with their star guard, senior Carson Puriefoy, who picked up two quick fouls of his own.

The Seawolves rallied, going on a 14-3 spurt over six minutes.  Two Ahmed Walker free throws ended the run and put Stony Brook back up 20-16. The Pride would eventually tie the game at twenty two all when Bernardi hit one of two free throws.   Later, Ameen Tanksley would hit two free throws to put Hofstra up two and Marcus Koon would bury a three pointer at the buzzer to give Hofstra a four point lead at the half, 31-27.

For the first twenty minutes, Hofstra had done a very good job holding Warney in check, often double teaming him when he got the ball.  Thanks to Gustys and some guard help, often by Bernardi, Warney had only six first half points.  The Pride were fortunate though to be leading because Stony Brook had several open back door lob plays on Hofstra's zone defense that were open, but the Seawolves made several bad passes, one that actually hit the rim, and could not capitalize on the opportunities.  Still it seemed Coach Joe Mihalich's defensive "boot camp" at practice the past week was paying dividends.

Apparently coach Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell made an adjustment at half time and at the start the second half, the Seawolves immediately worked the ball inside to Warney who then found Rayshawn McGrew for an open jumper to cut the deficit to two, 31-29.  McGrew followed that with a layup and the game was tied at 31.   The Pride would respond with baskets by Bernardi and Tanksley to go up four, 35-31.  Hofstra would maintain the four point lead 41-37 with fifteen minutes left in the game.

But it was around this time that the concerted effort to get the ball to Warney was starting to work. In about a three minute span, Warney scored three baskets, his last basket cut the deficit to three 44-41.   It was the start of an 11-2 run that gave Stony Brook a 50-46 lead that they would never relinquish.  They did this with excellent ball movement in the three and a half minute span where there was four assists and three consecutive three pointers.   The Seawolves successfully burned the Pride Zone, which often looked like a "squirrels on a highway" defense, with the Hofstra players scurrying to cover a man, only to leave a three point shooter open to bury the shot.

During the same time, Hofstra's offense struggled. They committed six turnovers in a five minute span. Green committed two of the turnovers and when he was successfully making passes, his teammates could not corral them.  In fact, it seemed every loose ball was grabbed by Stony Brook.  The Seawolves wanted the ball more and got it.

The Seawolves extended their lead to six, 63-57 with about 3:45 left in the game on another basket by McGrew.  The Pride would not give up however as Brian Bernardi became a one man wrecking crew, scoring the next seven Hofstra points.  His layup cut the deficit to 65-64 with 1:44 left.   But Walker, who was Robin to Warney's Batman in the second half, hit a huge layup and one to put Stony Brook up by four, 68-64 with 1:23 left.  

Twice Hofstra would cut the deficit to two, the latest being 70-68 on two Tanksley free throws.   Brian Sekunda had a chance to possibly put the game away with two free throw attempts with fifteen seconds left.  But Sekunda only hit one of two and Hofstra had a chance to tie.  But both Koon and Green missed three point attempts and Puriefoy grabbed the rebound of the Green miss and ran out the clock for the 71-68 Stony Brook win.

Warney was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the last twenty minutes of the game. He was also a force inside blocking shots, altering others and forced Hofstra often to kick the ball out instead of attacking the basket.  Warney had five blocks and added nine rebounds.  He was the only double digit scorer for the Seawolves, but Stony Brook had two players with nine points; Sekunda and Lucas Newhouse, who hit three 3 pointers ), two with eight points; McGrew and Walker, who also had eight assists, and Puriefoy added seven points.   The Seawolves were nine of nineteen from beyond the arc.  They are only shooting thirty five percent from three this season.

For Stony Brook, the balanced scoring and the bench points are a further indication of how deep Pikiell's team has been on the season.  The Seawolves average seventy eight points and ten players average eleven minutes or more per game.   That gives Stony Brook lots of options during a game and the depth will come in handy once America East conference play starts.  Whether Stony Brook can finally break through the wall and win the America East Tournament Championship is another matter.

Bernardi and Tanksley both had very solid nights for the Pride.  Tanksley led all scorers with twenty three points while Bernardi added twenty two points. They combined to shoot twelve of twenty four from the field including eight of thirteen from beyond the arc.  The problem was the rest of Hofstra shot eight of thirty one, including Green who was a dismal one of eight on the day.

Green has struggled in his last two games, shooting a combined five of twenty and only five assists combined in those two games.   Green is what makes the Pride go, especially on the passing end.  When Green has five or more assists, the Pride are 6-1.  When he has less than five, the Pride are 0-3.

After playing a solid first twenty minutes, the Pride defense regressed in the second half, giving up forty four points.  I guess it's back to boot camp for Hofstra. 

There were two other telling statistics.  The Pride were out scored in the paint 24-16 and their bench was out scored 19-3.  Nineteen to three.  

The last stat is very telling because the Pride only go eight deep most games.  In fact, the Pride only played two reserves against Stony Brook; Malik Nichols and Desure Buie. Nichols had the only points on a wide open three pointer.

So no Justin Wright Foreman, no Andre Walker and Jamall Robinson hasn't played all season, despite no reports of him being hurt (redshirt?).   No idea if Ibrahim Djambo, the senior transfer from Clemson, will be available in the spring semester.   

The Pride simply can't win playing only seven players.  The six foot ten Walker in his freshman season showed an ability to block shots.  Couldn't he have played just a few minutes against Warney to give him a different look?  

If Robinson is being redshirted, it's a mistake.  This is the Pride's best chance to win the CAA in several years and another small forward who can play solid minutes would be of help to Hofstra, especially from a defensive standpoint.  

The Pride need Green to be an assist machine and get back on track.  Hofstra could sorely use minutes from Walker, Wright Foreman and yes, Robinson come CAA conference play time.  They also need to have a consistent inside scoring presence as Gustys only had seven field goal attempts and only eight points yesterday.   When Gustys scores in double figures, the Pride are 5-0.  When not, 1-4.


Finally, the Pride need to scrap their zone, or badly fix it and show more effort on man to man defense. When the Pride score eighty or more points, they're 6-1.  When they score less than eighty points they're 0-3.  It's asking a lot to have their offense carry them every night and it can't, especially if Green has an off night or they're not willing to kick it inside to Gustys on a consistent basis to give them balance.

The time is now for the Pride to improve.  Otherwise, as I noted earlier in my preseason Hofstra preview, this could be 2006-07 again.  A wasted opportunity to win the CAA.   Time to step up Hofstra.