Kinney: St. Ben's star never satisfied
Melvin Johnson had just dropped in 25 points against a St. Anthony team that allowed an average of just 28 through its first six games this season.
But if the 6-3 senior from St. Benedict's Prep was deriving any satisfaction for his big offensive performance against the state's best defense, Johnson did as good a job at hiding it as he'd done unleashing his jumper throughout the game.
Johnson was absolutely glum following the Gray Bees' 51-50 loss Sunday night to St. Anthony in a showdown between the top two teams in the MSG Varsity Top 15 at the New Year's Jump-Off in Hackensack.
He'd done everything he could, it seemed, to try snappping No. 1 St. Anthony's 39-game winning streak and keep No. 2 St. Benedict's undefeated, but spoke afterward as if he'd been no more active that the team Player of the Game trophy he was holding.
"I could have played some D. We could have all played better D," Johnson said. "We tried to keep the lead and continue to play defense, but that didn't happen."
Johnson scored his final five points in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter on a fadeaway jumper and then a 3-pointer for a 45-40 lead. But St. Anthony (7-0) allowed just one more field goal the rest of the way and received a clutch 3-pointer from both Tariq Carey and Hallice Cooke over the last 3:19 to lift the Friars.
"I just came out tried to be as aggressive as possible," Johnson said.
That's the type of game the explosive guard knew when he played at Rice in Harlem (the school closed in June) the prevous three seasons and one he expects to comntinue next year at Miami.
"But they're a big defensive team," Johnson said of the Friars. "He (St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley) pushes them real hard to play defense."
It's no secret that defense has been the staple ingredient behind the 1,024 victories, 24 non-public state titles and 11 Tournament of Champions crowns St. Anthony has accumulated under its Naismith Hall of Fame coach.
And despite the high individual point total, Hurley felt it was more an indication of both Johnson's bulk and his prodigous talent than a sign of poor defense.
Johnson was 12 of 23 overall from the floor (4 of 8 on 3-pointers) and 1 of 2 from the foul line.
"By and large, on the quality of shots, I think we made him a high volume shooter," Hurley said. " We really didn’t turn them over. When we don’t turn them over, he's going to get a lot of shots.
"It's like (Derrick) Gordon in the St Pat's game last year," Hurley said of his club's 62-45 win last March in the North Jersey, Non-Public B final. "Gordon had 26, but sometimes when a guy is a high-volume shooter, he's not making the other guys around him better."
Junior guard Tyler Ennis attempted the final shot for St. Benedict's, a jumper from the left wing, but it was blocked by Joshua Brown as time expired. Add that fine play to an almost endless list of timely defensive plays by St. Anthony through the years. But also chalk this up as an outstanding effort by Johnson and his St. Benedict's squad, in general.
"We left it all out on the court tonight," St. Benedict's head coach Mark Taylor said. "We played well enough to win, but we have to look at ourselves and what we did wrong at the end of the game that lost it for us.
"We are not going to play a better team in the country this year," he said, "and we proved we are good enough to hang with the country's best."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS