It is rare that the fifth game of the conference schedule can be viewed as the most important game a team plays in its season.
That is the level of significance, though, that St. John’s 10 seniors have ascribed to tonight’s game against No. 4 Syracuse at the Garden.
“We’re definitely are looking forward to the game, especially the 10 seniors. We’ve never beat Syracuse since we’ve been here, so we’re definitely looking to get them off our back,” D.J. Kennedy said. “We’re trying to go out [on top] of Syracuse.”
It’s easier said than done. Syracuse has won five straight matchups between the Big East and in-state rivals.
“It’s a big deal for us. It’s been a battle between both teams [as to] who’s in control of New York. We feel, this year, our senior year, St. John’s is the face of New York,” Kennedy said. “You look at everything. We see cabs, we see everything with Syracuse’s face on it. So a lot of teams look at Syracuse as New York’s team. We’re trying to get that back.”
It starts with scoring. The undefeated Orange have outscored opponents by eight points per game, while limiting them to 37.5 percent shooting from the field. St. John’s is coming off one of its worst shooting performances of the season, running out of gas in a 76-61 loss to No. 15 Notre Dame but plans to steal second-chance points.
Lavin laid out a fairly simple three-pronged plan for his team to be successful against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense tonight. Lavin wants his team to push the ball so Syracuse cannot get set defensively. Lavin intends for the Red Storm to attack the zone in the half-court instead of settling for perimeter shots. Finally, he wants his team to hit the offensive glass. St. John’s is last in the conference in offensive rebounding at 8.5 per game. Syracuse’s 25 defensive rebounds leads the Big East.
“We intend to hit the boards at the offensive end of the floor. A zone, you’re trying to box out people within your area. Man-to-man, there’s more pinpointed responsibilities based on the matchups,” explained Lavin. “Sometimes there are opportunities, whether it is on a long shot or long rebound, to slip inside and hope there is a breakdown in their box out responsibilities.”