Federico Mussini had 17 points, five boards and three assists and Amar Alibegovic added 15 points and nine rebounds as St. John’s knocked off Syracuse, 84-72, at Madison Square Garden in a rematch between the two former Big East rivals.
The Johnnies, as a team, shot 50 percent from the floor and 12-for-25 from beyond the arc as Syracuse, once again struggled to defend in their 2-3 zone.
On the season, the Orange have actually been pretty good defensively. They were 27th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, a number that would be much higher if they weren’t 340th nationally if defensive rebounding percentage; Syracuse has allowed opponents to grab nearly two of every five available offensive rebounds.
The issue on Sunday, however, was the same problem they had in the 79-72 loss to Georgetown, when the Orange allowed the Hoyas to score 1.20 PPP: Their zone was sliced open far too easily. That’s where those three-point shooting numbers came from, the open looks that the Johnnies were getting.
The other part of it for Syracuse was that they shot just 5-for-26 from beyond the arc. Malachi Richardson and Trevor Cooney combined to shoot 7-for-32 from the floor and Richardson himself went 0-for-11 from three. This is a team that relies heavily on the long ball. That’s how they’re going to win games this season, and when those shots aren’t falling they’re going to dig themselves holes like the one they dug on Sunday.
And here’s the craziest part of all: Syracuse had plenty of chances down the stretch to win this game. They went to a full court press with just over four minutes left, down 79-66, and it worked. They forced the young St. John’s guards into turnovers, the Orange just couldn’t find a way to capitalize on them. Missed layups, poor decisions in transition, missed threes. The win was there for the taking.
Instead, the Orange have now lost three of their last four games since winning the Battle 4 Atlantis.