Chris Obekpa

Rysheed Jordan’s second half among positives to be taken from Sunday’s defeat

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While Sunday’s matchup with No. 2 Syracuse was billed as a big game for St. John’s, the Red Storm didn’t show up at Madison Square Garden ready to play in a game of that magnitude. Poor shot selection and play that at times seemed somnambulant resulted in a double-digit deficit, with a Rysheed Jordan basket as time expired cutting the Syracuse lead to 39-27.

Turns out that Jordan’s basket was the boost Steve Lavin’s team needed, and on an afternoon that saw the Red Storm shoot 1-for-17 from beyond the arc in their 68-63 loss to Syracuse there are positives to be taken from the result. The biggest positive may be the performance of Jordan in the second half, as his play on both ends of the floor allowed the Red Storm to not only close the margin but take a lead down the stretch.

Offensively the freshman from Philadelphia, who was one of the nation’s most talented point guard prospects coming out of Vaux High School, may not have shot particularly well from the field (2-for-8 FG) but his ability to attack the Syracuse zone off the dribble opened things up for the Red Storm. He also got the foul line, where he connected on all nine attempts. And defensively Jordan was a key factor in the Red Storm’s ability to keep Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis out of the lane for much of the second half.

A player who had some growing up to do and was even suspended for a game earlier this season, Jordan took a step in the right direction on Sunday afternoon. And if the Red Storm are to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth they need the freshman to build on his 13-point outing. D’Angelo Harrison scored 21 points to lead the way, and St. John’s put together much of its second half run with Jakarr Sampson on the bench with four fouls. Also, the rebounding (12 offensive rebounds) and foul shooting (20-for-26) kept the Red Storm alive despite their poor perimeter shooting. So there are clearly positives to be taken out of the defeat.

But they must become a more consistent team when it comes to perimeter shooting, regardless of their ability to make plays off the dribble. Entering Sunday’s game the Red Storm scored just 20.5% of its points on three-point shots, a percentage that ranked ninth in the Big East and will drop given their performance against Syracuse. And with it being likely that this group that has multiple slashers will see more zone as the season wears on, as opponents will aim keep them out of the lane, St. John’s needs to make strides in this area.

If Harrison, Jordan and the rest of the Red Storm can improve their perimeter shooting and late-game execution, they have the talent needed to be a factor in the Big East.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.