Utah Valley came up short against St. John’s on Saturday, Jan. 23 as they lost to the Red Storm 96-78 in Queens, New York.
After the loss, UVU sits with a 5-6 record on the season while SJU improves to 9-7. The Wolverines were originally scheduled to have the week off but added the game against the Red Storm on Wednesday.
Despite being 14.5-point underdogs, the Wolverines kept things close for much of the first half. Junior guard Trey Woodbury set the pace early on, scoring nine points on 4-of-4 shooting. As a team, UVU shot 61% from the field — an impressive percentage considering the aggressive, full-court defense employed by the Red Storm for much of the half.
Head coach Mark Madsen acknowledged the difficulty of playing against such a relentless defensive team. “You have to give a lot of credit to SJU for disrupting our rhythm,” he said.
UVU managed to beat the press often enough to keep pace with SJU but the Red Storm still managed to force 13 turnovers in the first half — they would score 15 points off turnovers in the half. SJU managed to pull ahead with a 10-0 run with under three minutes to play and would take a 45-34 lead into the locker room.
The Wolverines had 17 first-half rebounds compared to 12 for SJU. Sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq pulled in eight boards and scored eight points, while graduate forward Evan Cole led the team with 11 points in the half.
Things didn’t get much better for the Wolverines in the second half. UVU was still hot from the field but SJU continued to win the turnover battle and pulled away for good midway through the second half. The Red Storm led by as many as 23 points down the stretch and it quickly became apparent that a win was out of reach for UVU.
It didn’t help that Aimaq left the game with around five minutes left after twisting his ankle. The nation’s leading rebounder still managed to secure his ninth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. After the game, Madsen said Aimaq’s injury was diagnosed as a sprained ankle and it’s too early to tell if he will miss any future games.
Woodbury led the team with 23 points, senior guard Jamison Overton had 18 and Cole had 17. The team finished shooting 60% from the field and 44% from behind the arc but gave up 22 turnovers compared to the four allowed by SJU. The Red Storm would score 25 points off of turnovers.
“We have to improve in that category and we will improve in that category,” Madsen said of the team’s turnover woes. “St. John’s has some tremendous athletes — they’re quick, they’re tenacious, but we can’t allow that many turnovers.”
He added that he expects UVU’s next opponent, Tarleton State, to attack in a similar manner defensively. “Tarleton does a phenomenal job of pressuring the basketball. [On] a lot of presses they send random double teams. I think this will help us in our preparation building to next weekend.”
UVU will return to WAC play as they host Tarleton State on Friday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. MDT in the UCCU Center. The game will stream live on the WAC Digital Network and ESPN 960 AM.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko is a junior at Utah Valley University where he is studying journalism. He has been with The Review since 2019, where he has covered the UVU men’s basketball team and the softball team during his time as Sports Editor. Bridger has also worked as a producer for ESPN 960 AM. Aside from sports, Bridger is an ardent cinephile, and loves reading fantasy and science fiction novels.