Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Pitino After SJU Bops Butler: "We are becoming a total team"


RJ Luis Jr. goes up for a layup. @StJohnsBball.

The St. John's Red Storm have now won three straight games, after they won on the road on Wednesday night at Butler, 82-59, to improve their record Big East Conference play back to an even 9-9.

St. John's, whose overall record is now 17-12, was led by Glenn Taylor Jr., who followed up a superb performance in their win over Creighton at The Garden on Sunday, with a 17-point performance, in which he shot 6-8 from the field and a superb 5-7 from behind the arc, with three assists and three rebounds. Taylor also had a +24 ranking, meaning that's how many points more St. John's scored than Butler when he was on the floor.

RJ Luis Jr. had 15 points (7-15 FG, 1-4 threes) off the bench, with five rebounds. Chris Ledlum had 10 points (3-7 FG), four rebounds, two steals, and an assist. Joel Soriano snatched 13 rebounds, with seven points (2-8 FG), as well as notching a +24, matching Taylor's. Daniss Jenkins had eight points (4-13 FG) and nine assists, narrowly missing a double-double, with three rebounds, and he tallied a +23.

St. John's and Butler played basically even for the first five minutes, with the Red Storm up 13-11. Over the next six minutes, they went on a 12-2 run capped by a three-pointer by Zuby Ejiofor that made it 25-13. That 12-point lead was their biggest of the first half, and they took a 39-33 break into the intermission.

Just like on Sunday, when their trough came late first half, it was followed by a flourish to open the second half. The Red Storm opened up a 48-37 lead at the 16:24 mark when RJ Luis Jr. had a fast break layup off a turnover.

That lead would balloon to 16 points, at 59-43, when Jordan Dingle had a layup on a fast break at 13:08. That was just the start, as they would go up 22, at 77-55, on a pair of Soriano free throws with 6:18 left that sent the Butler fans to the exits.

St. John's outscored Butler 43-26 in the second half, as they shot 45.7 percent (16-35) and 40% (4-10) on three-pointers, to Butler's 34.8 % (8-23) and 27.3% (3-11) from behind the arc.

This is the third straight win for St. John's since the loss to Seton Hall on February 18, which left them with a Big East record of 6-9, and will be remembered for when St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino caused a frenzy by calling out his players by name afterwards. 

On Wednesday night, Pitino said of how this team has evolved in the last ten days, "Every game has its reason of why you win and why you lose. Tonight, we were just relentless on defense, we were very aggressive on offense. These guys try so hard, they want to do it badly. 

"What I said was all staged to get them to wake up and they woke up in a big way because right now they are playing great basketball. What I told them is you beat a really good team on the road but don't let up. Keep improving, keep your goals high and I think they will because they are a tremendous group."

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino also addressed these topics with the media after the game, including his opening statement: "We are becoming a total team. From the beginning, we relied on [Daniss Jenkins] but now we have Jordan, Ledlum, Glenn, we're just becoming a total team. I thought our offense was brilliant. I told the team, 'We are going to have to try to score, do not play to lose. Score, score, score.' I want them to keep scoring and obviously play the defense that we did. They did a great job. We had a record-high deflections with 38 tonight and that was terrific. It was a great team victory in a tough road environment to play in and I'm really proud of these guys."

On Glenn Taylor Jr.: "Glenn, like [Simeone Wilcher] can play 7-8 minutes and you think he played 37 minutes. He's just a great team guy, but now, he's doing the things we expected of him. His personality is so good, he's so team oriented and he never really thinks about himself. He's got to get it drilled into his mind to be a better offensive basketball player. What I told him is that we work so hard on player development, we take thousands of shots, so I want him to shoot the ball. He did right from the first play of the game. Chris [Ledlum] is playing fantastic basketball as well, but they are all being very aggressive on offense with movement. We had 17 assists, shot a good percentage, so they are all playing terrific. It's not just one person."

On Daniss Jenkins: "[Daniss] is one of the premium guards in the country...He's a legitimate NBA prospect because of his size, leadership and his ability to go by people. He does it for us every game, he never lets up in practice. He's a big-time basketball player and one of the premium guards in the country."

On what is working for his team: "What I love about them is that when they make a mistake they say 'Coach, that's my fault' right away. I say, 'Okay, no problem.' They all own up to it right away. Just like tonight, we got 11 steals because these guys are helping each other on any dribble penetration, everybody has each other's back...Both [Taylor and Ledlum] have gotten a lot better on defense. Chris has gotten a lot better. Glenn is becoming a stopper right now and that's what we need."

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