St. John’s has reason to believe but biggest problem remains
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For all the preseason hope, the addition of three rotation players, the return of the dynamic Shamorie Ponds/Marcus LoVett backcourt, and predictions of a top-five finish in the Big East, there remained one pivotal question.
Could St. John’s and its three-guard lineup rebound enough?
In the opener, the answer wasn’t what the Johnnies were hoping for. For one night, their worst fears were realized. St. John’s was out-rebounded, 42-27, by New Orleans, a mid-major program that used just two players taller than 6-foot-6. The undersized Red Storm gave up 15 offensive rebounds, leading to 15 second-chance points, in a comfortable victory.
“That’s something we harp on every day in practice, every day in film [study],” junior forward Marvin Clark II said in a phone interview as St. John’s prepared to host Central Connecticut on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena. “Defensive rebounding is our focal point, as far as what we need to get better at, and how we’re going to get over the hump, and become a tournament team.”
Ponds, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard, led coach Chris Mullin’s team with seven rebounds, a far too often occurrence a year ago. Reserve forwards Kassoum Yakwe and Amar Alibegovic didn’t grab a single rebound in a combined 13 minutes. Clark, expected to remedy the weakness, only had three boards in 29 minutes, though this was his first game in two years after sitting out last season.
“I know me and Tariq [Owens] got in each other’s way a lot, knocked each other over, knocked some of the rebounds out,” Clark said. “It’s definitely something we got to improve on. It’s really just communicating. Now we’re on the same page, but if we weren’t on each other’s back, it would’ve trimmed the margin down a lot.
“It starts with me. I got to bring down some of those rebounds I had and lost.”
Mullin has repeatedly said he doesn’t expect this group to suddenly become an elite rebounding team, but it has to make improvements from last season, when it was last in the Big East in rebounding margin and defensive rebounding. Protecting the defensive glass is key — it starts the Red Storm’s potent transition game.
The rebounding margin was the one negative from a mostly positive opener. Clark impressed in his debut with a career high-equaling 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field. Lovett picked up where he left off a year ago as a dynamic freshman, pouring in a game-high 23 points, and adding four steals and three assists. Arizona transfer Justin Simon was a force in the open court, and a factor on the defensive end, where St. John’s held New Orleans to 38 percent shooting and turned 21 turnovers into 36 points.
All were important developments. But, unfortunately, so was the effort on the glass.
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November 14, 2017
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