Playing a conservative zone defense in the first half, St. John’s led by two at halftime, a margin closer than it should have been thanks to late technical foul free throws by Georgetown Visitation’s Sydney Love-Baker to end the second quarter.
The Cubs (2-1) shot 4 of 11 in the period, unable to penetrate for layups thanks to that zone. But for St. John’s Coach Jonathan Scribner, that margin wouldn’t cut it.
“You don’t want to be in that position,” he said.
Out of the half, the Cadets (3-0) tried a full-court press that turned into aggressive half-court man, a ploy to produce a spark on defense and create some separation.
Early in the second half, it worked. Off a rebound and manufactured fast break, Sydney Wood (17 points, nine rebounds) hit a three-pointer from the corner. Aisha Sheppard (18 points, three rebounds) knocked down another on the next possession.
“We just had to focus harder on the defensive end,” Sheppard said. “Get stops, and the offense will come.”
The St. John’s press forced a turnover in the backcourt, and Sheppard scored an easy layup. Visitation’s Taylor Webster finally caught a glimpse of daylight in the paint on the next trip down the court, but she bowled into Wood for a charging foul. Cadets center Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo scored a smooth layup off an assist from Niya Beverley moments later.
“Once we got a few plays on defense and a few run-outs,” Wood said, “we started sharing the ball and we got going on offense. That really helped.”
To start the season, that might be the Cadets’ formula, Scribner said: producing a well-timed scoring spree spurred by solid defense.
“We really won the game in that stretch of three or four quick baskets,” he said.
The issue was holding that lead, a problem chalked up to that same man-on-man defense that helped create it. If a zone gives rebounders an excuse to be lazy, man-to-man is a way to get “out-toughed,” Scribner said. If the player you’re guarding grabs a rebound over you, that’s your fault.
After a fourth-quarter rally whittled a 12-point lead to five with three minutes left, Visitation’s Maeve Carroll (14 points, nine rebounds) grabbed a rebound with 25 seconds to play and made a layup while being fouled to pull the Cubs within three.
After a pair of missed St. John’s free throws, a Visitation three-point attempt was blocked. Wood and Beverley switched on a screen and took away the shooting lane. In the first-half zone defense, Wood said, that space would have been open.