To say that Saturday afternoon’s game for Utah Valley was rough is an understatement. The Wolverines wanted to make a statement in the Big Apple and surprise the country. St. John’s knew this, and they returned the favor in dominating fashion. However, committing 22 turnovers isn’t going to win many ball games.
Give credit to Utah Valley though for scheduling a game against a Big East foe. It’s not often you see a WAC school taking on a Big East school, especially in the latter part of January. But, to still get this caliber of a game scheduled was fantastic for Utah Valley.
In the early minutes of the game, it was neck and neck. Led by Trey Woodbury, who scored nine points in the span of nearly four minutes, the Wolverines kept it close and took the lead on a few separate occasions. However, Utah Valley saw their last lead of the game at 28-27 with 5:07 left in the first half. St. John’s then responded with a 10-0 run, and the Johnnies never looked back.
Coming out of the halftime break and trailing 45-34, Utah Valley came out swinging in the second half. Jamison Overton scored Utah Valley’s first six points of the half and cut the deficit down to just seven. Unfortunately, this was the closest the Wolverines would get.
St. John’s really put their foot on the gas pedal, and the Big East’s leading scorer Justin Champagnie found his groove. He scored 13 of the Red Storm’s 18 points after the Wolverines run that St. John’s their largest lead of the game at 17 points. The game was indifferent from that point on, and St. John’s ran away with it, winning 96-78.
Leading Utah Valley was junior guard Trey Woodbury. He scored 23 points and pulled down five rebounds. Jamison Overton was close to his season average finishing with 18 points. Fardaws Aimaq had another double-double outing as he finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Evan Cole had 17 points and also snatched five rebounds.
Justin Champagnie and Posh Alexander did the majority of the damage for the Johnnies. Alexander finished with 20 points and Champagnie finished with 19 points. Junior guard Vince Cole finished with 15 points; nine of those came from beyond the arc. Isaih Moore gave the Wolverines fits off the bench. Moore finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
— St. John's BBall (@StJohnsBBall) January 23, 2021
Let’s evaluate what swung the game so much in the favor of St. John’s.
Turnovers were the name of the game. Utah Valley had a total of 22 turnovers. In comparison, St. Johns only had four. The Red Storm took full advantage of Utah Valley’s turnovers as well, converting those into 25 points.
Having 22 turnovers in a game is rough for any team. You aren’t doing yourself any favors when you leave that many offensive possessions empty like that. When you give a fast team like St. John’s that many turnovers, it’s almost too easy for your them. It’s asking for trouble.
Coach Mark Madsen had this to say about the turnovers after the game.
“You’re not going to win many games with 22 turnovers, and so we have to improve in that category, and we will improve in that category. We have to be stronger with the ball. We can’t allow that many turnovers or allow a team to create that many steals against us.”
All in all, St. John’s executed at a higher level than Utah Valley did. What made them so tough to guard is that the Red Storm had a number of guys who scored at a proficient level. The turnovers were a large reason why Utah Valley was struggling to keep up, but the Wolverines need to find a way to consistently execute their offense and create looks for any of the core four guys.
Pace of the game
Speaking again on executing game plans, St. John’s perfectly executed their biggest one. Putting pressure on Utah Valley and creating chaos by dictating the pace of play. The biggest way this was accomplished was through their full-court press. It wasn’t the press that hurt the Wolverines. Rather, it was that they were rushed into their offensive sets. The key word there is ‘rushed’; there’s a difference between being rushed and playing fast. Utah Valley prefers the latter.
Fardaws Aimaq mentioned that one of Utah Valley’s keys coming into the game was forcing St. John’s to play at the Wolverines pace. The opposite happened, and it was noticeable.
“We were sped up when we got into the half-court,” Madsen said. “And that’s what St. John’s does. That’s their identity. Every team knows what they do. And they did it to us tonight. So, there needs to be improvement and growth from that standpoint.”
It’s good preparation too for upcoming conference games. Teams such as Tarleton State and UTRGV are going to put a lot of pressure on the Wolverines and try to force them out of their comfort zone. Granted, St. John’s will prove to have been a lot more difficult because of how athletic they really are.
The theme for Utah Valley this year has been centered around their core four of Fardaws Aimaq, Jamison Overton, Trey Woodbury, and Evan Cole. This group is very, very good. There’s no denying that. However, these four need some more help.
It was evident in this game. St John’s bench players outscored Utah Valley’s 27-10. When Utah Valley is taking on the top opponents in the WAC such as New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, and UTRGV, they’ll need their bench to step up and make a larger impact on the game.
When evaluating some of Utah Valley’s bench players, it’s apparent that the talent is there. Look at Jordan Brinson and Tim Fuller. These two are both transfers from other Division I programs and were both starters where they played last season. Le’Tre Darthard, Asa McCord, and Jaden McClanahan are all Junior College transfers. In addition, these three were also all conference/region honoree selections.
Mark Madsen has said on multiple occasions that this is a ‘next man up’ team. The talent is there. The pieces are in place. Each of these players have shown flashes of how good they can be, it’s just a matter of consistently playing at the level that Mark Madsen and his team need.
What’s next for the Wolverines
There is some good news that came following the game. Big man Fardaws Aimaq rolled his ankle in the second half and was in a noticeable amount of pain. The initial diagnosis is that he has suffered a sprained ankle. It’s unknown how long he will be out but it’s a good sign that it’s nothing worse than a sprain. If Aimaq isn’t able to play this weekend, look for Tim Fuller to start in his place and get an opportunity to get some run in on the court.
Utah Valley wanted to play this game. They did. It didn’t go how the Wolverines had hoped. But, they played a very good St. John’s team and were able to stay fresh to continue their quest for a WAC title.
This weekend Utah Valley hosts conference newcomers Tarleton State. Those two games will take place on the 29th and the 30th. You can watch both games on the WAC digital network.