New York Colleges: Northwestern Wildcats

Rapid Reaction: St. John's 85, Northwestern 69

December, 21, 2010
NEW YORK -- A quick take on St. John's 85-69 win over Northwestern in the championship game of the annual Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

WHAT IT MEANS: St. John's bounced back in a big way from those two very disappointing losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham earlier in the month, scratching out a five-point win against Davidson on Monday and then knocking off undefeated Northwestern on Tuesday to move to 7-3 on the season.

Northwestern, one of nine remaining undefeated teams in Division I coming into Tuesday night, was the best squad St. John's has faced so far this season. And this was by far St. John's most impressive performance.

"I thought coming off the St. Bonaventure and Fordham losses -- people who were at those games or heard me after the games, I was really encouraged with the progress we were making in certain areas, yet naturally disheartened that we lost the games," said St. John's coach Steve Lavin. "But I could feel a breakthrough on the horizon, and I think we've seen that in this Festival."

Northwestern falls to 8-1 on the season.

SLOW START: St. John's trailed 23-13 early, after giving up six 3-pointers in the first six minutes and 45 seconds of the game. That's been a problem for St. John's all season long -- the Red Storm were ranked No. 308 in the nation (out of 335 teams) in 3-point field goal defense coming into this game.

But the St. John's defense tightened up after that, narrowing the deficit to 40-37 at halftime, before wresting control of the game in the second half.

"What we talked about at halftime was, we're fine offensively, but we have to do a better job of getting to shooters and chasing their shooters off the 3-point line," Lavin said. "I think we put together in the second half the offense and the defense."

Northwestern -- which shot 56 percent from the field (14-for-25) in the first half -- shot just 29.7 percent in the second half (11-for-37), and 26.7 percent from downtown (4-for-15).

"In the second half, they just really wiped us out and we could not get anything going," said Northwestern coach Bill Carmody. "They were guarding us real hard and we were absolutely unable to stop them. ... They just did a real nice job."

UNCONSCIOUS! St. John's shot an incredible 16-for-20 from the field in the second half, finishing 31-for-52 for the game (59.6 percent). St. John's big three scorers all played well -- Dwight Hardy had 24 points, Justin Brownlee 21 and D.J. Kennedy 13.

But Justin Burrell was St. John's MVP of the championship game, with 17 points and nine boards in 25 minutes off the bench. Burrell, averaging just 4.7 points per game, made all six of his shots from the field, and even made five of his eight free throws.

Also, freshman Dwayne Polee played very well off the bench for the second straight night, with 10 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.

"I took my lumps early in the season. … I wasn't letting the offense really come to me, I was more hunting for shots," Polee said. "Coach just told me to take shots in the rhythm of the offense. And so I just have to take my time and let the shots come to me."

"I think he's had a breakthrough," Lavin said of Polee. "He's a microcosm of the larger picture of our team, and we're seeing that with a number of players who are blossoming right before our eyes."

WINNING TIME: This game was all tied up at 50 with 13:31 left to play, after a layup by Northwestern's John Shurna (who was outstanding, finishing with a game-high 28 points). That's when St. John's asserted control, going on a 19-7 run to open up a 69-57 lead with 5:50 remaining, punctuated by a Kennedy flush.

Burrell was an absolute beast in the second half -- he scored 15 of his 17 points after intermission.

WHAT'S NEXT: St. John's will open up its Big East schedule at West Virginia on Dec. 29. Northwestern has a quick turnaround -- the Wildcats will host Mount St. Mary's on Thursday.

Brownlee -- who was named the Holiday Festival MVP -- sounded confident about his team heading into league play.

"I feel like we’re ready for the Big East," Brownlee said. "It was a big game for us, and also a breakthrough for us."

"We would have loved to have beaten St. Bonaventure and Fordham," said Lavin, "but we probably have arrived at a better place in getting ready for the league."

St. John's vs. Northwestern -- a preview

December, 21, 2010
St. John's will attempt to win its 15th Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival title -- and it's first since 2005 -- Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. against Northwestern.

The Red Storm will be on their home floor, but they'll face their toughest opponent of the season thus far. The Wildcats are 8-0, one of only nine undefeated teams left in Division I this season.

Northwestern throttled St. Francis (NY) 92-61 on Monday night to reach the Holiday Festival championship game, while St. John's scratched and clawed its way to a 62-57 win over Davidson.

On defense, St. John's has to be worried about the 3-point line -- the Red Storm have been susceptible to good 3-point shooters all season long. In fact, St. John's is ranked No. 308 (out of 335 schools) in Division I in 3-point field goal defense, letting opposing teams make 39.0 percent of their shots from behind the arc.

That could be toxic against Northwestern -- the Wildcats are the 11th-best 3-point shooting team in the country, making 42.1 percent of their attempts. John Shurna -- a 6-foot-8 junior forward and Northwestern's leading scorer at 24.0 points per game -- is shooting a remarkable 63.6 percent from the field, and an even more remarkable 61.9 percent from downtown.

On offense for St. John's, D.J. Kennedy needs to be at least as aggressive as he was against Davidson, when he collected a team-high 17 points and nine rebounds. Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee also need to look for their shot. St. John's will likely need good scoring performances from all three players to beat this Northwestern team -- a squad very likely to be the first in school history to make the NCAA Tournament.
NEW YORK -- A quick take on Northwestern's 92-61 win over St. Francis of Brooklyn on Monday night, in the opening game of the 2010 Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
WHAT IT MEANS: Northwestern -- one of nine undefeated teams in all of Division I heading into Monday night -- moves to 8-0 on the season, continuing its best start since 1993-94, when the Wildcats began the season 9-0. St. Francis drops to 6-4, and has its five-game winning streak snapped.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: There's been a lot of talk about Northwestern's John Shurna, who came in averaging 23.7 points per game, shooting 64.3 percent from the field and 62.2 percent from 3-point range. And Shurna played very well, finishing with 26 points. But Drew Crawford was the Wildcats' star on Monday night. The 6-foot-5 sophomore, who came in averaging 13.9 points per game, poured in 25, to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists -- just missing a triple-double.

CRITICAL STRETCHES: St. Francis hung tough with Northwestern for the first eight minutes of the first half -- the game was tied at 17 with 11:42 remaining before intermission. But then the Terriers went scoreless for the next six minutes, 11 seconds -- the Wildcats went on a 19-2 run, and led 45-31 at halftime.

St. Francis showed signs of life early in the second half, scoring the first seven points to cut the lead to 45-38. But another run by Northwestern -- this one a 14-2 stretch -- left the Wildcats in command the rest of the way.

DOUBLE-MUZZLED: The Terriers' top two scorers -- guards Akeem Bennett and Ricky Cadell -- were both pretty quiet Monday night. Bennett had 11 points (but a few came late, with the game comfortably in hand), and Cadell had just two -- both players came in averaging 16 points per contest. In general, St. Francis struggled to get open looks once Northwestern went to its 1-3-1 zone defense -- a good adjustment by Northwestern coach Bill Carmody.

To make matters worse, Bennett was ejected from the game with 2:24 remaining, for committing a flagrant foul.

WHAT'S NEXT: Northwestern advances to the championship game of the Holiday Festival, against the winner of the St. John's-Davidson game -- Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. St. Francis will play the loser of that game, at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

St. John's vs. Davidson -- a preview

December, 20, 2010
After eight days off, St. John's will try to snap its two-game losing streak on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, when it takes on Davidson.

The game is part of the annual Holiday Festival at the Garden -- it will be preceded by St. Francis (NY) taking on Northwestern at 7 p.m. The St. John's game should tip off at about 9:30. Both games will air locally on MSG.

The two winners will play in Tuesday night's championship game, while the two losers will play first in the consolation game.

St. John's (5-3) is coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses -- 67-66 to St. Bonaventure at Carnesecca Arena, and 84-81 at Fordham. The Red Storm blew a 10-point second-half lead against the Bonnies, and a 21-point second-half lead against the Rams.

These two games at the Garden this week are critical for St. John's -- they are the Red Storm's final two before beginning Big East play at West Virginia on Dec. 29. St. John's desperately needs to build up a little momentum, and a couple wins could also loom large if the Red Storm end up on the bubble come NCAA Tournament time.

"I spoke to the kids about the season being a marathon," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said after the loss to Fordham. "And because of our last two losses, we now have to get two wins that maybe when you look at that schedule before the season starts, you didn't think you'd get."

Shooting guard Dwight Hardy is coming off two outstanding personal performances -- Hardy had 24 points against St. Bonaventure, and 30 points against Fordham. Lavin would like to see more of that -- and more in general from senior swingman D.J. Kennedy, St. John's leading scorer last season, who is off to a sluggish start this year.

Davidson -- coached by New York City native Bob McKillop -- is 5-4 on the season, and 1-1 so far in the Southern Conference. The Wildcats also are coming off eight days off -- in their last game, they defeated Charlotte at home 82-68. (In Charlotte's last game, it defeated No. 7 Tennessee.)

Jake Cohen -- a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward -- leads Davidson in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg). Cohen is shooting 52.9 percent from the field, and 82.9 percent from the foul line.

Lavin will likely give more minutes to 6-foot-10 Dele Coker, 6-foot-8 Justin Burrell and 6-foot-8 Sean Evans, in an attempt to counteract Cohen's size.

Fellow sophomore J.P. Kuhlman -- a 6-foot-4 guard -- averages 13.6 points per game, and a team-high 3.3 assists per contest.

In the first game of the doubleheader, St. Francis faces a tall task -- Northwestern (7-0) is one of nine remaining undefeated teams in Division I. John Shurna -- a 6-foot-8 junior forward -- is having a fantastic year so far for Northwestern, averaging 23.7 points per game, and shooting 64.3 percent from the field. Shurna also has made 23 of his 37 3-point attempts (62.2 percent).

St. Francis is 6-3, and 2-0 in Northeast Conference play under first-year head coach Glenn Braica -- a former St. John's assistant. Akeem Bennett -- a 6-foot-3 senior -- averages 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Terriers, while fellow senior Ricky Cadell (a 6-foot-2 guard) averages 16.2 points per contest.