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Inside Play Powers Syracuse Over St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Syracuse scored 38 of their 78 points in the paint, including a 36-point effort from Kayla Alexander, and stormed back from a 14-point deficit to beat St. John's, 78-65. Alexander was one of four Orange players in double figures, with Syracuse getting strong games from Iesia Hemingway and Shakeya Leary. Da'Shena Stevens led the Red Storm with 18 points, while Eugeneia McPherson added 16 off the bench, 15 in the first half.

For lots of post play, a call to arms, frustration, mysterious collapses, and some serious coaching questions, join your intrepid and pessimistic blogger after the jump.


I've given up trying to figure out St. John's. I'm sorry, guys, I just can't do it anymore. A week ago- less than a week ago, six days ago- it looked like they'd finally found their cojones again after beating Georgetown in overtime, gutting it out against a team that might have been better than they were. Today they rolled over and died against a team that isn't nearly as good as they are. And I don't know whether that has more to do with a galling lack of senior leadership, some questionable coaching decisions, some team-wide malaise, or them getting too big for their britches, because those are all possible reasons why they fell apart in the fourth quarter.

They were honoring the Army and the ROTC today, so there was a little halftime ceremony, and the ROTC presented colors. Anthem was performed by the St. John's mixed chorus, and they were all right- not great, but not awful. Someone left their blackberry near the mic, and at one point everyone heard the chirp of an incoming message. I had to fight off an attack of the giggles.

I don't know what happened, but Kim Barnes Arico was hot under the collar even before the game. She had a very long and animated conversation with one of the Syracuse assistants. I don't know what it was about, but I thought it was interesting that she and Hillsman didn't chat before the game- most head coaches seem to do that kind of thing.

Carmen Tyson-Thomas wears a number with a lot of expectations at Syracuse, and she's not doing too bad a job with it. Phylesha Bullard was the sixth woman in the first half, but the real sixth woman was the very broadly built Shakeya Leary, who's built like a 95% scale version of Keke Carrier. She was the two in the one-two punch in the post, when Syracuse was going at it in the paint. We weren't able to match her bulk, and though she took advantage of it, she didn't take as much advantage of it as I thought she would have. On the other hand, she did a nice job setting up Kayla Alexander by being that two, so there's that. Three other Syracuse players got into the game, but it's very hard to write a meaningful analysis of players who play a total of four minutes, so if you're looking for that, I do apologize.

Tasha Harris is a big girl. She looks like she wanted to play football at some point in her life and got sidetracked by basketball. Apparently the scouting report said that she was a deadly outside shooter, because our defenders (ahem, Shenneika) kept going out to cover her and leaving Erica Morrow wide open. Iasia Hemingway got loose in the second half- that's when she scored all her points. She's another big- I thought she was a forward when she originally transferred, so I wasn't looking for someone her height when trying to figure out who was who; the only reason I was able to figure out who she was before Syracuse took off their shooting shirts was that she said hello to a few folks who I know are from Newark (I think they're Nadirah's friends and/or family). Erica Morrow got in on a few nice plays, but overall I wasn't impressed with her. I did, however, enjoy watching Elashier Hall (who appears to have gotten tired of people mispronouncing her name, because the way she was announced, it sounded like her name was given to the PA guy as Lacy). I find the jackknife fold of her shot peculiarly endearing, and I like her ability to fake out an defense on the fast break with her hesitation move. I think she needs to get the hesitation out of her offense when she's not faking out opponents, but she's only a sophomore. She has time to work on that. She hit one three from far out it came from freakin' Suffolk County. Kayla Alexander- who we called Six-Four during the entire game because that was the relevance of her existence- killed us. Killed us dead. Splattered us, smashed us, and ruined us. We had no answer for her height, and for some reason, Kim Barnes Arico decided not to play the one answer we did have. Syracuse understood that she had a height and length advantage over everyone on the floor for St. John's, and she took advantage of it.

Jennifer Blanding should have gotten more than six minutes. She was the only answer we had for Alexander- the one play where they were up against each other (okay, maybe not the only one, but the most memorable one), Alexander wasn't able to shoot over her. (Of course, Syracuse ended up scoring off the play because we couldn't get the rebound because of Leary's bulk, and she had the putback. But Jennifer's defense on the original shot was on point.) She had a pretty little skyhook as well. These notes are supposed to be my immediate post-game reactions, with a minimum of research, but Barnes Arico's quotes about Jennifer made my blood boil. Amanda Burakoski can apparently only score in threes- she hit a long-range shot and an old-fashioned three-point play (though can we really call it old-fashioned when the three-point shot has existed for more than thirty years?) She had some deplorable defensive lapses, though, including one near the end of the game where she all but joined in allowing Harris to part the Red Sea. DO NOT WANT, okay? Some of that might have to do with exhaustion, because she was starting to register on the Adubato Meter for being ungodly shades of red. Eugeneia McPherson found her offense in Florida (which is a sensible place to be in February), but had apparently traded her free throw shooting for three-point shooting,. She also had only the one free throw in the second half, and that bothers me. She got more desperate and less accurate, which was a team-wide problem. I love her work on the backcourt trap, but she wasn't as ready as usual when Syracuse was able to break the trap.

Shenneika Smith was not herself today. Or maybe she was and that's what we should be afraid of. She took a lot of off-balance shots that were not well thought out, and her defensive lapses were deplorable. She cheated off her assignment way too much, and part of me wonders if she got distracted by Harris possibly talking trash. High school ball in NYC is sort of like that, from what I've heard. (I don't know from personal experience, because for one, I don't play, and for another, my high school alma mater was not exactly a sports powerhouse.) Nadirah McKenith ran a solid game- lost her head a little at the end and dove for the lane, either to draw fouls or just to get herself into double figures. Her teammates weren't ready for some of her passes, and maybe that says something about her reading of the floor, and maybe that says something about how ready they were for the game, and maybe that says something about how ready Syracuse was for us. I don't know. Sky Lindsay barely played because Gina and Buzz have been hot, but she was brought in late in the game. Of course, when she came back in, she notched a steal and a fast break layup, and Kim promptly sat her back down again. That made no sense, especially when Day was hurting and Buzz's defense was falling apart. Da'Shena Stevens had one heck of a first half, and played well in the second, but after one particularly hard hit, it looked like all the fight went out of her. With about five minutes left, it looked like she had cracked under the pressure. I don't know if she was hurt or if she was panicking, but all of her shots at that point were quick and bad- the free throws, the twos, and the straight on three. She just could not contain the bigs from Syracuse. I know it seems like I'm harping on the inside play, but that was really the difference. They killed us inside, and our undersized posts could not compete. However, that is no excuse for the awful play of Coco Hart. It's one thing to be unable to defend physically larger players. It's another thing to be so off your game that your coach would rather attempt to counter size with small forwards while you sit on the bench for ten and fifteen minutes at a stretch.

Kim's head was not in the game today, plain and simple. I don't know if she was worrying about her kid, who was watching the (very thrilling) game over at the Garden, or if she was trying to figure out if Hillsman TP'd her house, or what, but she was off her game from the start, and it became clear that she wasn't deviating from her plan, no matter what. There were times when Buzz and Gina needed rest and Sky should have come in. There were times, especially in the second half, when Da'Shena and Coco needed to sit down and Jennifer needed to come in, especially when Syracuse kept pounding it inside and Day and Coco weren't able to defend their inside players. Her handling of Jennifer was egregiously awful. I don't know if we would have won on that substitution, but I think it would have helped if Kim had been paying attention to what was working and what wasn't. I think it would have helped if Kim had accepted when players were injured and worked around that- I don't think she wanted to take Day out even when there was blood. Blood is bad, Kim.

The officiating was just barely acceptable. There were a few plays that I thought should have been called against Syracuse, and one awful call against Da'Shena that should have been on Hall (the football tackle came from the player whose school has football, Bonita). Norma Jones was on point, though. She made her calls quickly and accurately, and called for help just as quickly when she didn't have the call. I have to wonder how Hillsman didn't get T'd up for coming all the way out to the center court logo to argue an out of bounds, though. I thought keeping coaches in the box was a point of emphasis this year, and... that's pretty far out of the box.

I'm disappointed in my team and a bit broken up. There's no sign of leadership, either from the bench or from the players, and that doesn't bode well for the rest of this season. I'm starting to wonder if Kim hung all her hopes on the sophomore class- on Shenneika, Nadirah, Eugeneia, Amanda, and Jennifer, and mostly on the first three, from the way she talks about Jennifer. None of the freshmen played today, after all. I wonder if she's written off the seniors already, if she's pinning everything on the class of 2013, and maybe on Da'Shena. I don't know if she still has this team. I don't know if this team still has this team.