Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kevin Willard quote book: NJIT

*All quotes courtesy of Seton Hall University's Facebook Live stream*

On why Angel Delgado did not play for the final 18:14 of regulation:
"On one of the last drives, he tripped over Abdul's leg (NJIT's Abdul Lewis), kind of -- nothing major, just a little calf -- kind of minor thing and then I just wasn't gonna put him back in. He's logged a lot of minutes already early in the season, so the big fella, he's been a workhorse, so I wasn't gonna mess around with that and just technically give him kind of a night off, which he deserves."

On Sandro Mamukelashvili (11 points, 9 rebounds) filling in for Delgado:
"Yeah, Sandro -- that was the frustrating thing with Sandro. We had a great talk last night, watched some film. It was so minor with some of the stuff he was getting frustrated on, it was just showing him that he was doing everything right, but he was just a second late, a step slow, or maybe just in the wrong position. Just fixing those things is going to put him in position to get a rebound, to get something going good his way, and I thought he gave us great energy."

On slow starts in each of Seton Hall's first four games:
"You're gonna -- especially when you play local teams, you're going to get their best shot, especially early. I think our depth is kind of helping wearing teams down, but you're going to get everyone's best shot that first 10, 12, 13 minutes. We've had some good runs early. It's just sustaining that energy early on, but for the most part, I felt comfortable where we are."

On Seton Hall's difference in the second half:
"I thought we really did a good job on them defensively, making them take tough shots. That led us to some easy buckets, and I thought we were more efficient offensively. I thought the ball went more from side-to-side, guys were kind of getting second and third ball reversals. That gave us some great drives."

On Isaiah Whitehead's tweet predicting Myles Cale would be a program legend:



"I have no comment."

On Eron Gordon and his role as Khadeen Carrington's backup at point guard:
"Yeah, I thought EG did a really good job. Three assists, seven points, I thought he defended really well. I thought he was a little more comfortable in that position considering that Jordan's going to be out for about three weeks, maybe a little bit more than that. I thought throwing him into the fire against Indiana was a little tough, but I thought he looked much more comfortable out there and had a better feeling for what we were trying to do."

On Jordan Walker and his thumb injury:
"He has a torn ligament in his thumb. He could have played and we could have taped it up, he could have went the season, but we decided to go the safe route, just make sure we get it healed now and we don't have to mess with it at the end of the year."

On Desi Rodriguez:
"Desi's an elite player. That's all I'm gonna say about Desi right now. He's put the work in, he's got the confidence, he's scoring in so many different ways. He's just -- he's playing at a very high level with his brain, too. He's not a one-dimensional player, which makes him tough to defend, and he's finally embraced the fact that he can get an easy bucket posting up, getting on the break, and he can obviously do what he needs to do outside."

On Thursday's matchup against Rhode Island:
"I really can't do much besides get ready for the game. I think we're celebrating Thanksgiving on Sunday because we're off Saturday. We'll celebrate Thanksgiving as a team Sunday."

"I think every time, obviously going forward, most of the teams we play, it's a good opportunity for us. Obviously Rhody, Danny (Hurley) has done a phenomenal job there, you've got Vandy, Virginia, then you've got Texas Tech coming up, you've got Louisville coming up, VCU. We have a stretch right now where everyone on our schedule gives us a good opportunity."

2K Classic: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK -- There was a time when everyone started practice October 15. Games began following Thanksgiving. The early games were largely matchups or to benefit the stronger team(s). Times have definitely changed.

Now, teams begin practice earlier, and get a few scrimmages and exhibitions in before an opening just prior to mid-November. And not all games see sacrificial play-for-pay lambs take to the road. You have tournaments like the just finished 2K Classic, held at the basketball Mecca of Madison Square Garden, annually a challenging and competitive one.

This year’s edition was no exception. The record will show Providence emerging the champion. The Friars of the Big East dismantled an up-and-coming Saint Louis squad, 90-63, in the championship. One team emerges unblemished, two leave at.500, a last comes up empty in two encounters. That is a harsh, number-related truth but beyond that for all four programs, there was something to take home.
Providence not only took home the title, but found out a lot about its overall depth, a big factor as the year progresses. Saint Louis scored a semifinal upset, then their relatively young team was reminded about the demands of competing on this level. Virginia Tech, following the loss to Saint Louis, found the resiliency to bounce back a day later. Washington, after playing Providence tough, was also dealt a cruel reminder of the need to be ready.

The turkey is yet to be carved and the teams here, and in other locales, are finding out so much about themselves. For the fans, this time of year brings a treat of high-level, March-like competition. Thankfully, those bygone days, in this competitive case at least, are a distant memory.

A reminder from the nearby concession stand that it is a game night at the Garden:
A panoramic view of the World's Most Famous Arena:
Virginia Tech huddles during a timeout:
Washington taking the floor prior to their semifinal contest against Providence:
The mythical Billiken, flanked by Ray and Saint Louis' cheerleaders, in a photo op confirming its legend and existence:
Washington head coach Mike Hopkins, a former Jim Boeheim assistant, looks on as his Huskies battle Providence:
Saint Louis at the free throw line against Providence:
The band from Lyndhurst High School, filling in for Saint Louis' regular pep band:
Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford, in a dialogue with official Brian Dorsey:
Providence's spirit squads with the 2K Classic championship sign:
Providence point guard Kyron Cartwright and head coach Ed Cooley meet the media:

Manhattan 73, Harvard 69: 5 Observations

Calvin Crawford recorded double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Manhattan defeated Harvard to move to 2-0 heading to Gulf Coast Showcase. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- An 18-point lead in the first half gave way to a six-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, but Manhattan was able to recover, scoring 10 of the next 12 points thereafter to defeat Harvard by a 73-69 final tally, winning their second straight contest to open 2017-18. With that said, here is the first edition of observations of the young season as the Jaspers leave Draddy Gymnasium and head to Florida for three games in the Gulf Coast Showcase:

1) Calvin predestined to make an impact?
Calvin Crawford, in his first full season as a starter with the Jaspers, has shown his ability to change games early and often, even in a small two-game sample size. The 6-foot-8 senior chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds against St. Francis Brooklyn Wednesday, and improved upon that with a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double against a Harvard team against whom he exploited a mismatch in the first half.

"I think he's benefitting from playing with really good players," Steve Masiello said of Crawford's beginning to the season. "I think that's when you notice him, because you forget about Calvin. We have all these guys, and then oh, by the way, here's Calvin cleaning up scraps and going by guys and making plays. He's really doing a good job of defensive rebounding, that's what I'm most proud about. He has to learn when he's making some shots to put it on the floor and go by people, because he should get to the rim and the foul line more. We've got to get him to play a little more aggressive."

"He's multi-dimensional," Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker reflected, praising Crawford, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the first half. "They posted him up on a big possession out of the timeout and he came through with a three-point play, so I just think he's a very versatile offensive player. His threes really hurt us, and I thought he did a fantastic job."

2) "I thought Rhamel Brown was back."
That was Masiello's assessment of Rich Williams' leadership in timeouts during the second half, as Harvard erased the Jaspers' 18-point lead with a commanding 37-13 run. Manhattan's 2-0 start is largely attributed to the impact and heart of Williams, something that was greatly lacking as he missed the entire season last year.

"He doesn't panic," Masiello said of the fifth-year senior, who is the most experienced player not just on the Manhattan roster, but also in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "I literally was in the timeouts and I thought Rhamel Brown was back, and he's like, 'Everyone, just relax, calm down. We're gonna win the game, let's defend, get stops, play by play,' and I was like, 'I'm gonna hire this kid. He sounds like a good coach.'"

"I say it all the time: It's a blessing just to be out there with the guys," said Williams, who led all scorers with 20 points three days after scoring 21 against St. Francis Brooklyn, reaching the 20-point plateau in consecutive games for the first time since November 2015, when he turned the trick against George Mason and Fordham. "More importantly than anything, it's all about defense. I'm trying to get in that defensive mindset and just coming off a hot start, 2-0, all the work we put in, like the 5:30 a.m. (practices), getting after it every day, it's just a relief. We do know that we've got more work that we need to do to get where we need to be."

3) On Aaron Walker's maturation:
The sophomore and former Cardozo standout was inconsistent at times on the defensive end in his rookie season, but still showed flashes of brilliance and the ability to be a star player in this program before he calls it a career in Riverdale. On Saturday, Walker's defense was ultimately what helped win the game for the Jaspers, as he spent the majority of his 23 minutes diving for loose balls, pressuring Harvard's Bryce Aiken and immersing himself in the culture that has become the epitome of Manhattan basketball over the years.

"I guess I've improved a lot," a modest Walker assessed of his renewed defensive prowess. "It's something I've been working on this whole summer, ever since the last game we lost in the MAAC Tournament. I got in the gym, got with the coaches and kept working."

"I'm really proud of his growth," Masiello echoed. "From a maturity standpoint, I think last year, this was a game where early in the game if a couple of things didn't go his way or if he didn't get a call, we might have lost him. We were talking a lot about a team ego, and I think he's really bought into team ego. He won the last game for us with a dig, the ball goes down the post and he slaps it loose. Tonight, he had two big plays on Bryce, getting in front of him and turning him. His mentality is going in the right direction. He's got a lot of work to do, but we're happy with where he is right now."

The matchup with Aiken, a Top 100 recruit and star at The Patrick School before signing with Harvard, was of particular interest for Walker, who was playfully reminded by his coach about the task at hand.

"The first thing Coach said when he saw me was Bryce was looking for me," Walker quipped. "I just came here with the mindset to do whatever I had to do to win."

4) A character-building win for the Jaspers:
As noted, last season's Manhattan team may have struggled with a team of Harvard's caliber, especially once the Crimson pulled ahead. But on this day, the Jaspers' resilient front and ability to play through adversity helped secure a victory that will shape the foundation of a team picked second in the MAAC during the conference portion of the schedule, where higher expectations will be placed in front of them.

"We're where we should be," Masiello revealed before Manhattan competes in the Gulf Coast Showcase, playing three games in as many days in a tournament setting. "We have a lot of work to do if we want to do the things we talk about privately as an organization, but I'm really proud of how they've handled themselves in the tests we've had. I think they've handled themselves very well."

5) Déjà vu?
The last time Manhattan was 2-0 to open a season was in 2013-14, when the Jaspers went on the road and prevailed in double overtime against La Salle before George Beamon's last-second heroics wrapped up a victory at Columbia that was marked by the team riding the No. 1 train to and from Levien Gymnasium. The records may be the same four years later, but with the ultimate end game still four months away, the similarities thus far bear a striking parallel.

"It's crazy," said Williams, who was a freshman on the 2013-14 team that ended up winning a MAAC championship and nearly upsetting Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. "We went to overtime in the last game, and that happened our first game against La Salle. The following game was a little different, we played against Columbia and George tipped it in the final seconds. Today, we were up a lot of points but we came back, so just to see us fight back, it was similar in that sense, that adversity we faced. It's a good start, a good stepping stone in the right direction."

Manhattan outlasts Harvard to win second straight

Rich Williams' 20 points led Manhattan and all scorers as Jaspers led by as many as 18 and then had to come back after giving up second-half run to Harvard, surviving Crimson to open season 2-0. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Last season, Manhattan was ultimately defined by an inability to respond to playing from behind. En route to a 10-22 record, there were repeated instances where the Jaspers seemingly lost their composure when trailing by two or more possessions, often seeing the game in front of them spiral out of control.

Now owners of one of the more experienced outfits in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and a reinvigorated commitment to returning to the postseason for a third time in five seasons, the response to a six-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining in regulation was a resolve similar to the fights forged by the championship-winning units of 2013-14 and 2014-15.

After visiting Harvard came storming back from the 18-point hole they had dug themselves to open up their aforementioned six-point cushion, it was Manhattan who flipped the game on its head, unleashing a 10-2 run in just over four minutes to defeat the Crimson by the final of 73-69 in front of a raucous Draddy Gymnasium crowd.

"The things I questioned about this team, they've shown me two games in a row now," Steve Masiello proudly remarked as the Jaspers (2-0) received 20 points from Rich Williams and 19 from Calvin Crawford to open the season with consecutive wins for the first time since their championship campaign of 2013-14, when La Salle and Columbia were the first of 25 teams to come up short against Manhattan. "A big part of that is Rich and the seniors, and that's just their ability to handle adversity. We talk about that a lot. I think really good teams, when they can handle adversity, that says a lot. It's not about your talent or what play you run, it's the mentality."

For a large portion of Saturday afternoon's matinee, it appeared as though adversity would not come into play for the home team, who took advantage of Harvard (2-2) being unable to find a comfort zone through a first half that started evenly portioned before the Jaspers' 1-2-2 matchup defense rattled the Crimson and created Manhattan's first major offensive opportunity, a 9-2 run started by Williams and punctuated by Crawford to swing the pendulum into the Jaspers' hands in the form of a 19-12 advantage. Harvard pulled within three points shortly thereafter, but Manhattan countered with a 17-2 outburst for their largest lead of the day, a 40-22 edge that became 40-25 at the intermission as the Crimson connected on a three-pointer by Danilo Djuricic moments before the horn.

The visitors' fortunes would improve out of the intermission, as Harvard; after spotting Tom Capuano the first points of the second stanza, scored the next 12 unanswered in a run that began and ended with Bryce Aiken, one of four players with double-digit point totals for the Crimson with 12 points on the day, helping to close the gap. This stretch was part of a 37-13 spurt bridging the end of the first half with the majority of the second half, a period of the game that culminated in a 59-53 Harvard lead with 6:11 to play after a 16-3 run put Manhattan in a two-possession hole.

But the Jaspers recovered, scoring six straight points to tie the game at 59, first on an Aaron Walker three-pointer before a pair of Crawford free throws and one out of two at the line from Zavier Turner. Harvard poked their heads in front again on a Rio Haskett three-pointer with 4:12 on the clock, but it was the last lead the Crimson would enjoy. Following two more free throws by Walker, the sophomore would strike again from the left wing, burying a three after Turner kicked it out to him from under the rim. Harvard pulled even once again on two foul shots by Chris Lewis, but Williams' fifth trifecta nearly a minute later provided the final lead change and the Brooklyn native's second career stretch of back-to-back 20-point games.

Ahead by three, at 67-64 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, Manhattan added an extra two points on a fadeaway jumper by Walker, but were not completely out of the woods as the Crimson pulled within one on a Seth Towns trey with 63 seconds left. Turner split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to two in the final minute, leaving Harvard with a chance to tie, but Aiken's attempt at a layup fell off the rim and into the arms of Zane Waterman, who sank two free throws for the final margin on the scoreboard.

Manhattan was buoyed by a 10-for-17 performance from beyond the arc, with Williams accounting for half the triples while Crawford; who added 10 rebounds to his point total for a double-double, and Walker added three and two of their own, respectively. For Harvard, Towns led the way with 17 in a losing effort as the Jaspers held on to win a game that last season's team may have been unable to seal.

"With our style, you're gonna have runs," Masiello cautioned. "And you've got to be okay with that. We're gonna give up runs, and we call it fool's gold. But what you can't do is panic, and he (Williams) doesn't panic. I was really impressed with Rich's ability to lead us through adversity. That's the question mark I've had and so far, two times out, we've handled it well. We have a lot, a lot of room of improvement that we've got to work at, and we will."

Friars throttle Saint Louis to take 2K Classic championship

Providence, who won Big East championship at Madison Square Garden in 2014, leaves Big Apple with 2K Classic trophy after thrashing Saint Louis for crown. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Providence, off a solid semifinal victory over Washington, faced a Saint Louis team thriving on a second upset opportunity following their defeat of Virginia Tech 24 hours prior. The Billikens were under the bright lights, but in the end, it was Providence getting rave reviews, by virtue of their decisive 90-63 victory.

Saint Louis’ length was a factor in employment of the 1-3-1 zone very early, as the Billikens battled on even terms. Providence (3-1) stepped up, taking an 18-13 lead, forcing Saint Louis coach Travis Ford to go man-to-man. Shortly after getting that lead, Ed Cooley made his own defensive adjustment, going from man to zone. Besides the sideline chess match, what transpired on the floor altered the course of the game.

“They just got physical,” Ford bluntly stated of the Friars. “We are a physical team and like to play that way, but our guys just didn’t respond. We did not play like who we are.”

Providence got inside, hit from the perimeter and made defensive stops while taking a 41-21 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Friars came out following the break with no hint that the championship already had their name engraved, opening the first four minutes of the final stanza with an 11-3 run, extending their lead to 28 points.

“We came out determined to execute our offense and continue to play good defense,” said point guard Kyron Cartwright, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player.  

In the final analysis this was not about glitz, glamour or showtime. With workmanlike effort, Providence put together a solid effort, outworking Saint Louis (3-1) on both ends of the floor.

“They were physical.” Ford said. “We just did not respond.”

Cooley, by his own admission, is not a numbers or analytics coach. “The only numbers important to me,” he once said, “are those numbers on the scoreboard when the clock reads 0:00.” He has since lightened a bit, urging his staff to chart plus-minus and even admitting to studying the results, deciding to go with veterans in the second half against Washington based on those numbers.

“Sometimes you come out and shoot 1-for-10,” he said. “Tonight, it seemed almost everything we put up went in.” Providence shot 62 percent from the field, including a blistering 9-for-10 in three-point field goals.

“Give them credit,” Ford said of the Friars. “They shot it so well and played at an amazingly high level.”

Providence had four in double figures and was led by Rodney Bullock with 15 points. That alone is significant, as Cooley is utilizing a number of players early. It appears to be working, as the Friars owned a 46-19 edge in bench points.

“Our bench took it up another level,” he said. “That is significant, as it builds chemistry and trust. We have a group where every player is confident when they step on the floor.”

The Big East Tournament, which will be Providence’s next visit to the Garden, is less than four months down the road. Regardless, Cooley spoke of how winning the tournament is a good prep for March Madness. Beyond, that he was pleased with the adjustment of his team and how they responded.

“We had a quick turnaround after yesterday,” he said. “Today, we had film, scouting reports and a walkthrough, roughly four hours of preparation with a game to play tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of our group, especially since we beat a Saint Louis team that will only get better and is hard to guard.”

Friday, November 17, 2017

After OT win, Jaspers seek 2-0 start against Harvard

Rich Williams scored 21 points in first game since March 2016, and will be searching for encore as Manhattan hosts Harvard Saturday with 2-0 start at stake. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Prior to Wednesday night's overtime victory, the last time Manhattan had won a season opener came four years prior, when they christened the 2013-14 campaign with a double-overtime triumph on the road against La Salle, the precursor to what would be a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and near-upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.

While history has repeated itself in the early stages of this young year, a Cinderella run through March is not immediately on deck for the Jaspers, whose path to a third conference championship in five years continues Saturday afternoon when Harvard visits Draddy Gymnasium for a 1 p.m. matinee.

"I remember in 2013-14, we opened up at La Salle in double overtime and then at Columbia (a game the Jaspers won on a miraculous display by George Beamon in the final seconds), and we really should have lost both games," head coach Steve Masiello recollected of Manhattan's last 2-0 start to a season. "I'm just really proud of these guys finding a way to win, and I think that's something to be said for them. When you find a way to kind of grind out games and get one, I'm really, really happy about that."

The Jaspers needed almost every second to survive a pesky St. Francis Brooklyn team that opened up a 10-point lead behind a scorching first half before being worn down as the game went on by Manhattan's experience and a 21-point game from Rich Williams, playing his first official game in over 20 months after missing all of last season due to a torn meniscus.

"It was a really gutty performance by him," Masiello declared. "I thought he came out full of a lot of fire and did a lot of things."

"You see it," he elaborated, referencing Williams' impact and once again being able to utilize it as a weapon in his reformed arsenal. "You see he's just a different guy on the basketball court. He's physically strong and makes shots, he has a mentality that fits our style, he calms us at times."

Long described as the heart and soul of Manhattan's trademark defensive intensity, Williams' presence on the floor instantly makes the Jaspers a stronger unit, but he cannot do it all. With that said, the rest of his teammates will be equally as vital to leading the way in pressuring a Harvard team that suffered its first loss of the year Thursday, falling on the road to a Holy Cross team that turned the Crimson over 23 times. The number of takeaways is one that Manhattan will no doubt be looking to equal, beginning by limiting the chances for sophomores Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns to explode at the expense of the suffocating pressure that has become a calling card in the northwest corner of the Bronx. But it will take a team effort to truly neutralize Tommy Amaker's roster, one that many feel will represent the Ivy League on Selection Sunday.

"We've got to make sure that we understand, and that's one of things when you have Rich and you have Z (Zavier Turner) and you have Aaron (Walker) -- you have all these guys, you can't forget about people," Masiello reassured. "As a coach and as players, you've got to make sure we're putting them in the right situations to be successful. I've got to do a better job of that."

"I think our press will get better. We'll get better. We had nine steals (against St. Francis Brooklyn), we didn't have as many deflections as we would like. We only had 27, we want that at 35. But the blueprint is there. I like a lot of things we're doing, I like our pieces. We'll get better as time goes."

*Special thanks to John Templon of NYC Buckets, whose quotes contributed to this story.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Numbers tell ugly truth for Virginia Tech in loss to Saint Louis

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Buzz Williams is truly a coach immersed and steeped in analytics.

His press conferences often include mentions of deflections, passes before three-point attempts, rebounding percentages, ball screens, paint touches, and the like. Following Virginia Tech’s 77-71 setback against Saint Louis at Madison Square Garden, the Hokies’ head coach had just one number reference.

“We have had 24 practices to date,” Williams said. “And I am disappointed with our competitiveness.”
If you want a number, look no further than rebounding. The Hokies were outrebounded 43-33 by Saint Louis, who had a 26-17 percent edge in offensive rebounding rate. Rebounding equals toughness and competitiveness.
“They were tougher than us on both ends on the floor,” Williams lamented. “They showed a toughness we like to have. They played physical and just out-toughed us.”
Postgame was short on numbers, if any. Williams told his team it wasn’t so much a disappointment in losing, rather than “the manner in which we played.” For the basketball savant on the bench in Blacksburg, a one-day turnaround with a consolation game in this 2K Classic on tap may be a blessing. It affords the chance to get back out and compete, and hopefully to erase the memory of what transpired.
“They managed the game very well,” Williams said of Saint Louis. “They did a good job executing plays. But when we did stop the play, we did not stop the player. That is a big difference and very significant.”

The loss was Virginia Tech’s first following victories over Detroit and The Citadel. The Hokies put three in double figures, led by Ahmed Hill with 26 points. Regardless, it was ultimately of little consolation.

“We just did not do enough,” a morose Williams reiterated. “We did not deserve to win this game.”
Buzz Williams is never at a loss for words. On this evening, the Virginia Tech mentor was at a complete loss for numbers. For Virginia Tech, it was simply that type of game.

Saint Louis thrives on MSG stage, beats Virginia Tech to reach 2K final

Travis Ford addresses media after Saint Louis' upset of Virginia Tech to reach championship game of 2K Classic. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- The clock leading to tipoff was running down. After a final meeting with his staff, Travis Ford made his way to the locker room to address his Saint Louis team, stopping to exchange pleasantries with a well-wisher.


The short meeting revealed Ford’s concern. While the two-day 2K Classic would provide outstanding competition for his improved club, the task at hand, Virginia Tech, was one weighing on Ford.

“Virginia Tech is so good,” Ford praised. “Maybe in one way, it is good we play them now, because at the end of the year, they will be a team nobody will want to face.”

In the end, the same may be said of Ford’s Billikens, as Saint Louis defeated Virginia Tech by the final of 77-71, advancing to the 2K Classic championship game Friday evening.
Just 44 seconds into the game, Ford called his first timeout. His team committed turnovers on their first two possessions and with the game less than a minute old, Virginia Tech had a three-point lead, far from insurmountable by any means but still indicative of a possible blowout in its formative stages.

Defensively, the Billikens had to locate Ahmed Hill. The Hokies’ redshirt junior guard, given the daylight, knocked down three three-pointers, ending the first half with a team-leading 11 points. In the latter part of the half, Saint Louis did a better job locating Hill and limiting his opportunities.

On the other bench, Virginia Tech had defensive problems of their own. They trailed by three, but coach Buzz Williams could sense Saint Louis had the hot hand. Williams changed defenses, going to a 2-3 zone for a few possessions. The Hokies soon reverted to their regular man-to-man. The main problem, no matter the defense Williams chose, was limiting dribble penetration. The Billiken guards and wings did a good job getting in the interior of the defense and capitalizing. Outside of the first few possessions, Virginia Tech was on its heels.     

“Virginia Tech is a difficult team to prepare for,” Ford said. “I am proud of our team. We sustained the full 40 minutes, we competed. I was really worried about sustaining the full game against them, but we did. We have some new guys and some guys trying to figure it out, but tonight we were able to compete.”

Javon Bess scored 22 points to pace the Billiken scoring. All the redshirt junior swingman wanted to talk about was defense.


“We wanted to slow them down and make them make four or five passes,” he revealed. “Our transition defense was a priority, but every day, we pride ourselves on defense. Our practices are really physical.”

Ford reiterated the idea of stopping Virginia Tech’s transition game.

“I watched their games about three times on tape, and each time I was so impressed on how many layups they were able to get,” he stated. “We wanted to run our offense, and in that way, prevent them from getting in transition.”

For Saint Louis, the championship game is next.

“I told the guys leading up to the tournament this is a big stage, Madison Square Garden, a tournament and now playing for a championship,” Ford recounted, as another big stage awaits in less than 24 hours. “We will be playing for not only our program, but the Atlantic 10 as well.”

St. John's decimates Nebraska, improves to 3-0

Shamorie Ponds exhorts crowd during St. John's runaway win over Nebraska. The sophomore guard led Red Storm and all scorers with 22 points in Thursday's 79-56 victory. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/St. John's University Athletics)

JAMAICA, NY -- I finally see the dawn arriving
I see beyond the road I'm driving
- Boston, "Don't Look Back"

In each of the first two games St. John's has played this season, Chris Mullin has stressed that a complete game was not an item that his Red Storm team checked off their list of objectives. Yes, New Orleans and Central Connecticut provided expected moments of success, but after 40 minutes Friday and another 40 on Tuesday, the all-time leading scorer on the corner of Union and Utopia once again made it a point to emphasize progress with Nebraska; national champions in football multiple times over and despite a lack of championships in comparison to their gridiron brethren, still a formidable threat given their physical style and standing in the Big Ten Conference.

What followed was a demolition that gave St. John's fans a reason to truly believe their team was talented enough to at least make things interesting in March, where fans of the Cornhuskers may have taken a moment or two in Thursday's 79-56 obliteration to pine for Tom Osborne to try his luck on the hardwood.

"This was our biggest test to date in this early season," Mullin conceded on a night where Shamorie Ponds paced the scoring leaders again with his 22 points as the Red Storm (3-0) simply overpowered their visitors from Lincoln on both ends of the floor. "I think the most important thing is that tonight was really the first time that I saw our defensive alertness, quickness and athleticism really showed."

The vaunted transition game was not as much of a factor as it was Tuesday night against Central Connecticut, but against Nebraska, it truly did not have to be. St. John's was able to pound their way to a commanding 44-16 margin in the paint against the Huskers (2-1) while simultaneously rendering a once-dynamic offense into an anemic 28 percent effort from the floor in a game where head coach Tim Miles had no answer for the 50 rebounds and 10 blocked shots that complemented the authoritative takedown.

"I think you'll see more high-level stuff offensively because we share the ball so well," Mullin advised. "We have such a nice blend of talent. Each guy has strengths that can cover up another player's weakness."

To expound on that last quote, if we may: Ponds' production was bolstered by seven rebounds and five assists, making up for Marcus LoVett missing each of his first five shots before recovering to finish 6-of-14 from the floor with 14 points overall. Justin Simon's second consecutive double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, one marker more in each category than in Tuesday's win) masked just seven points and five boards from Marvin Clark II. Even Bashir Ahmed (15 points in arguably his most efficient game of the young season) and Tariq Owens, the latter of whom posted six points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots, covered up for Clark committing four of the nine total turnovers recorded by a crisp Red Storm team.

"I thought our activity on defense was what made the difference," Mullin proudly stated before praising Owens' impact off the bench.

"He's the anchor of our defense," he said of the former Tennessee transfer. "His blocks, they're great blocks, but they're because he's just in the right place. He's not drifting away, he's always in the help position and communicating. He does it all. To me, he makes everything go. He's so freakishly athletic, he can do anything."

A respite, at least on paper, appears in the form of Rockville Centre-based Molloy College, a Division II foe who makes the short jaunt up the Cross Island and across the Grand Central for a 6:30 tipoff Monday night. The contest with the Lions may be a break from the step up in class from Thursday, but it represents an added chance to build on the mystique of Carnesecca Arena that has helped contribute to the fast start by New York's team.

"We have to appreciate our fans," said LoVett. "They gave so much energy out there. We wanted to come out with a lot of energy, and I feel like we started and finished the game like that. To see the whole atmosphere, it felt beautiful to be in that environment, and we plan on having more games like that."

LIU vs CNR Photo Gallery

Photos from LIU Brooklyn's 104-68 victory over the College of New Rochelle on November 15, 2017:

 (All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)