The box score sometimes offers a blueprint for how a game went beyond the final score. That was the case for St. John’s 73-57 victory over Wagner in its home opener Friday night at Carnesecca Arena.
The one figure that jumped off the page like a red warning light was the Red Storm’s 0-10 shooting from three-point range. That means St. John’s (1-1) is 2-for-23, which is 8.7 percent, for the season from beyond the arc.
No wonder coach Steve Lavin thought his players put up too many threes against Wagner. “Obviously, we want to make threes, but I actually didn’t like the threes,” Lavin said. “I wish we took less of them. I felt four or five of the threes were ill-advised.
“We were having success in putting the ball inside in transition, playing through the paint, getting mid-range jump shots. We want to make threes, but I think we’re a better team when we’re fueling our offensive attack off of our defense and when we’re playing through the paint with our bigs and when we’re playing in the mid-range.”
Coming into this season, Lavin suggested the Red Storm would be much better from distance than the past two seasons when teams packed the paint in zone defenses and dared the johnnies to try and shoot them out of it. The addition of big man Orlando Sanchez and freshman point guard was expected to be an improvement, and Max Hooper is a noted three-point shooter in his workouts.
But that trio was 0-for-5 against the Seahawks, and D’Angelo Harrison, who scored 25 points on 7-of-16 shooting overall, missed all four of his threes. The other miss came from Sir’Dominic Pointer.
It’s still early to pass judgment, but Lavin tipped his hand by playing Hooper less than a minute at the end of the first half and by keeping Marc-Antoine Bourgault, another three-point shooter, rooted to the bench. He explained it as a matter of matchups against some of Wagner’s quick players, but if you think the Seahawks are quick, wait until you see Big East opponents.
Unless Jordan and Sanchez show dramatic improvement, three-point shooting isn’t likely to be a major weapon in St. John’s arsenal. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In Lavin’s first season at St. John’s with a senior-laden team, he convinced players such as Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy to focus on the mid-range game and getting to the basket, and the Red Storm tied for third in the Big East and went to the NCAA tournament, beating five top-ten opponents along the way.
When that comparison was mentioned to Lavin Friday night, he agreed. “Yes, we’re more effective,” Lavin said. “We’ll get ourselves to the foul line more frequently, and we put a lot of pressure on teams when we don’t settle for the three.
“Yet, I won’t be surprised if we have some games when we go 9-of-15 and light people up. We have that ability, and I see it every day in practice. The empirical evidence isn’t there yet based on what we’ve done so far, but we have confidence in this team’s ability to shoot the ball.”
The closer range, the better.