St. John's edged BYU 67-62 in the Cougar Classic final Saturday night, and learned something in the process:
The Big East Conference isn't the only place that plays tough defense."In the second half they (BYU) came out and played pretty good defense," said St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca. "They were very physical."
The 17th-ranked Redmen, now 6-0, shot only 39.6 percent from the field against the Cougars, 4-3, including 31.8 percent in the second half.
BYU shot better (53.2 percent) and outrebounded the Redmen, 33-28, but lost the game at the foul line. St. John's attempted 31 free throws, and made 22, while BYU made eight of 10.
The foul-line differential didn't go unnoticed by BYU Coach Roger Reid.
"I didn't realize they were shooting 31 free throws to our 10," Reid said. "Holy smoke. When you play that aggressive and get only that many fouls, that's amazing."
Actually, BYU was only called for five more fouls than St. John's, but the Redmen shot penalty fouls much earlier than the Cougars in both halves.
The Cougars were also hurt by a shaky start. They turned the ball over three times in the first five trips downcourt.
"The ballgame was lost in the first five minutes," Reid said. "Our guys came out somewhat hesitant, frightened, and we really lost our composure."
"I think a couple of guys were intimidated at first," BYU center Shawn Bradley said.
Neither Reid nor Bradley were naming names, of course, but one player who had a rough start was point guard Nathan Call. Still struggling somewhat when matched against quick opponents, Call committed three turnovers in the first few minutes and was pulled in favor of Mark Santiago. Santiago contributed three points and an assist in 10 minutes of backup duty, and then Call was sent back in, apparently settled down by his stint on the bench.
"It's been an adjustment for me, playing against guys that quick," Call said. "I'm not playing the way I want to, but I know I'm improving."
St. John's led by its widest margin, 16 points, with 1:21 left in the first half, but BYU scored five straight points to cut the lead to 11 at halftime.
Redmen guard Chucky Sproling opened the second half with a three-pointer to make it a 14-point ballgame at 40-26, and the lead stayed in that neighborhood until BYU guard Mark Heslop hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut it to seven.
Carnesecca said his team had been told to watch for Heslop, who is shooting 50 percent from three-point range. "A couple of times BYU kids set excellent blocks and he was all alone out there on the prairie," Carnesecca said. "He hurt us."
The Redmen pushed the lead back to 11 with nine minutes left, and then BYU made a serious move. Kenneth Roberts hit a turnaround jumper on the right baseline, Jared Miller added a layup and Call missed a layup but was fouled and hit both free throws to make it a five-point game, 57-52.
Heslop then stole the ball and raced downcourt, only to miss a layup that would have cut the lead to three, and Malik Sealy tipped-in a missed shot on the other end to make it 59-52.
The Cougs came back again, however, Gary Trost sinking one free throw and Roberts two to cut the lead to four. The Redmen scored only one more field goal from that point, but connected on six of eight free-throw attempts to seal the win. BYU, meanwhile, got five points from Bradley and two from Miller in that last four minutes.
Bradley, by the way, shot his only free throw with 1:35 left in the game. Regardless, he led the Cougars in scoring with 19, despite being the guy the Redmen were most concerned about.
"Everybody had to be aware where he was," Sealy said, "because he's so big it's easy to get the ball into him."
C'mon, guys, it wasn't that easy. The Redmen had three players 6-10 or taller, and much heavier than Bradley, and threw them at the Cougar center in shifts. Starting center Robert Werdann played only 17 minutes because of his body work on Bradley, while backups Sean Muto and Shawnel Scott combined for five personal fouls in 28 minutes on the court.
The Redmen were equally concerned with the 7-foot-6 Bradley at the other end of the court. They tried to take the ball inside against him, and had a strategy of making him move on defense to make it tougher for him to block shots.
It may have worked, since Bradley had only four blocks after swatting away 12 shots in Friday night's game.
No other Cougar scored in double figures. Miller, Heslop and Roberts each had eight, Miller and Heslop getting all of theirs in the second half.
In the early game, Eastern Kentucky hung on for a 70-69 victory over George Mason University.
With three minutes left in the game Eastern Kentucky held a one point lead, and then it was tight-collar time. The teams took turns missing field goals and free throws, the only scoring being one successful free throw apiece.
George Mason guard Mike Hargett got to the line with 13 seconds left and a chance to tie it, but he missed the second of two free throws. Eastern Kentucky's John Allen then clanged a breakaway dunk off the rim, and a desperation three-pointer by George Mason caromed harmlessly off the glass.
Sealy was named tournament MVP, and the rest of the all-tourney team consisted of Bradley, BYU forward Steve Schreiner, Jason Buchanan of St. John's and John Allen of Eastern Kentucky.
BYU next plays Wednesday in the Marriott Center against Arizona State.