Johnnies riding 13-game winning streak to start MIAC play 11-0, including 77-62 win over St. Thomas in Collegeville last Saturday. The No. 6 ranking is one of the highest in school history.
By Jack Wozniak
There were very few empty seats in Sexton Arena this past weekend when St. Thomas came to Collegeville for the Johnnie/Tommie Basketball game. Reserved Tickets had been sold out since Thursday, Jan. 19, and General Admission seats were filled to maximum capacity.
St. Thomas came hoping to avenge last season’s thrilling Johnnie playoff win that ended the top seeded Tommies’ season. The Johnnies headed into the game riding an 11-game winning streak and boasting a perfect conference record.
Senior post Tyler Weiss said that the Johnnies were unfazed by the hype or the rivalry.
“We are a pretty experienced team, so the hype usually doesn’t affect us in the same way as it did when we were youngsters. We usually know what to expect and what we need to do to get the job done, with or without a large crowd,” Weiss said.
St. John’s was able to pull away after a close first half for a 15-point victory and a final score of 77-62. Despite the final score, St. Thomas started the game with success against St. John’s.
Head Coach Pat McKenzie credits the Tommie’s transition game.
“They use some pressure and a full court press to chew up time and to speed you up a little bit,” McKenzie said.
That pressure led to 10 Johnnie turnovers in the first half, which was something McKenzie and the Johnnies addressed at halftime. The Johnnies did not commit a single turnover in the second half.
According to McKenzie, protecting the ball allowed the Johnnies’ defense to take over.
“Particularly in the second half we were much better defensively, both in transition and then following our scout in the half court,” McKenzie said.
The Johnnies also had offensive success. Junior guard David Stokman was named the MIAC Men’s Basketball “Athlete of the Week” after his 26 point effort against the Tommies. Weiss had 20 points and 12 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season.
The win over St. Thomas extended the Johnnies’ win streak to 12. This also meant that the team has beat every other team in the MIAC except for Gustavus. That game was scheduled for Jan. 22, but was postponed until Jan. 29. Sophomore post Lucas Walford said the defense that was successful against St. Thomas has been the team’s key to winning.
“There have been a couple of games where we haven’t shot as well, but we’ve still taken the lead and pushed with it because we’ve gotten stops,” Walford said. “On any given night we’ll have the better offense, but if that doesn’t help us out then we can always fall back on our defense. I think that is what has won us the close games.”
Despite the Johnnies’ success in the first half of the season, McKenzie knows that nothing is guaranteed in the second half.
“We know what we’ve done to have success against our opponent and we’ve beat them. On the flip side, when you get beat your more apt to change and try something different,” McKenzie said. “We need to have that ability to adapt on fly, because teams may be prone to change things in preparation for us.”
The Johnnies success so far has led D3Hoops.com to rank them sixth in the nation. The team isn’t overlooking any team in the conference, but Weiss made their goal very clear.
“[Our] next goal would be to cut down the nets in Sexton Arena,” Weiss said.