basketball Edit

Fueled by Coffey; Minnesota Hands SJU First Loss

Shamorie Ponds
Shamorie Ponds (SJU Athletics)

St. John’s aimed to make its mark against Minnesota in the team’s first road test of the season, as part of the Gavitt Gamesat Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minn.) on Friday. However, in a battle between two young teams, the Golden Gophers (4-0, 0-0 BIG TEN) foiled that plan, burying the the Red Storm (2-1, 0-0 BIG EAST), 92-86, in the nightcap.

Outside of the apparent youth of both the Golden Gophers and Johnnies, evident through the amount of unnecessary fouls on the floor, each squad put out strong efforts on the offensive end.

Minnesota’s 6-foot-8 freshman guard Amir Coffey wreaked havoc on St. John’s as he lifted his team in a multiplicity of ways on the floor. He led his squad with 30 points on 9-of-14 from the field, 1-of-4 from 3-point range and a near-perfect 11-of-12 from the free throw line. Coffey also tacked on four rebounds. Teammate 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Dupree McBrayer added 13 points, five assists and five rebounds.

"[Coffey] killed us in the first half,” said St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin. “We helped him a little bit and got him going, but he's got nice length and nice touch. He killed us."

Although taking a loss in the contest, St. John’s redshirt-freshman Marcus LoVett recorded a game-high 31 points on 11-of-27 from the field, which included 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He also had five assists. Freshman guard Shamorie Ponds added 23 points in the contest, shooting 8-of-15 from the field, 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-1 Ponds also grabbed eight boards. The freshman pair combined for 19-of-42, effectively taking and making more than half of the team’s shots, as well as accounting for almost two-thirds of the team’s total points.

The Johnnies shot 36.7 percent (29-of-79) from the field, including 40.7 percent (11-of-27) from 3-point range. St. John’s even outrebounded Minnesota by a margin of 13, 54-41.

However, despite their efforts, the Golden Gophers were truly balanced being effective on both ends of the hardwood, more spread out in point distribution and efficient in every statistical column. Minnesota shot 43.7 percent (31-of-71) from the field, including 41.2 percent (7-of-17) from 3-point range. The team also hit 79.3 percent (23-of-29) of its opportunities from the charity stripe.

Though the Gophers began the contest with a helter-skelter style that proved to be unproductive in the opening minutes, the team made adjustments to when and how it would attack the St. John’s defense. Powered by Ponds, the Red Storm led early in the matchup, but seemed to lose their footing when the Golden Gophers began to use an up-tempo response to the Johnnies’ makes and misses. Long shots turned into short rebounds, which were quickly converted into offensive plays for Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers also recorded 21 fastbreak points by the midway mark of the second half, while restricting the Johnnies to just zero. Minnesota finished with 23 points off the break, while the Storm had just four at the end of the 40-minute contest.

At the 13:17 mark of the second stanza, the Johnnies trailed by as much as 16 points, 57-41, after a jumper by Minnesota’s freshman forward Eric Curry -- his lone contribution in the points column playing through foul trouble. Golden Gophers’ foul-plagued sophomore forward Jordan Murphy was able to post 12 points and four rebounds before fouling out. Teammate and primary ball-handler junior guard Nate Mason, who recorded no fouls despite being on the floor for 35 minutes, played a huge role in point production and facilitation with 13 points, five boards and seven assists.

"You're going to make and miss shots,” said Mullin. “We didn't get the quality shots that I would like. I would like more ball movement and some high pick and rolls. The ball was a little stagnant but that happens when you're down."

Struggling to cut the deficit down to single digits, the Red Storm trailed by 15 points, 59-44, at the 12:13 mark when 6-foot-10 big man Reggie Lynch (six points, 11 boards, nine blocks) knocked down 2-of-2 from the line. This was before St. John’s responded by slowly creeping back. The Storm came within six points, 59-53, through a basket from junior swingman Bashir Ahmed, who recorded a double-double 15 points and 10 rebounds in the matchup, as well as 3-pointers from both Ponds and LoVett as part of a 9-0 run.

St. John’s could only trim the deficit down to as low as three points, 64-61, on a dunk off of an offensive board by redshirt-sophomore Tariq Owens by the 7:21 mark of the stanza.

The Storm trailed 41-31 at the half.

St. John’s used an 11-0 run to lead by a much as 13 points, 22-9, at the 11:41 mark of the first half. Still, though Minnesota had not scored since the 14:08 mark, the squad steadily built momentum through its defense. The Golden Gophers earned opportunities in transition by securing boards off St. John’s missed shots and exploiting the Johnnies’ inability to quickly get back on defense.

As a result, Minnesota’s Coffey capped an 18-3 run on a fastbreak dunk off of a steal from St. John’s sophomore guard Malik Ellison. This gave the Golden Gophers their first lead of the contest, 27-25, at the 5:02 mark of the first stanza.

The Johnnies led 6-0 at the 16:40 mark of the first half before a 3-pointer from Gophers’ Coffey put his team on the board.

"Any game we play is going to be a good test,” said Mullin. “We got guys that haven't played college basketball and the guys returning are sophomores. We'll learn from it, keep working and we'll get better for it."

Other Article: Coffey Creams St. John's

St. John’s will play Michigan St. on Wednesday, Nov. 23, as part of Battle 4 Atlantis at the Imperial Arena (Paradise Islands, Bahamas). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.

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