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Scrimmage Slants: St. John's (S) vs. Springfield Central

SHREWSBURY, Mass. -– Many of the MIAA’s best teams will be in action this week for warm-up scrimmages in order to help them prepare for the start of the official regular season. On Tuesday, No. 10 Springfield Central, who lost in the Division 1 West finals last year, traveled to Shrewsbury to take on perennial power No. 7 St. John’s, who made it to the Division 1 Central finals last year before falling to Milford.

The game was also a matchup of two of the state’s top coaches: St. John's Bob Foley and newly-hired Central coach Jack O’Brien. The Pioneers got the best of Central early and often, however, winning by a score of 96-61 after four 10-minute quarters.

Kelley, Jones in mid-season form

This past Saturday, St. John’s point guard Davon Jones and point forward T.J. Kelley were on the turf of Gillette Stadium trying to win the Division 1 state championship, a game they lost after having a halftime lead. On Tuesday, it looked as if the pair hadn’t missed a beat on the basketball court. Jones was all over the court defensively, proving to be a menace by getting tips on passes and forcing turnovers—just like he does on the football field. Jones was SJ’s most consistent offensive player on Tuesday, finishing several lay-ups at the other end off of forced turnovers, but he wasn’t the only one.

Kelley, at 6-foot-5, forced plenty of turnovers and did some scoring for St. John’s as well. Kelley is a dual-threat type of player who can shoot the three, drive to the basket, rebound, or defend the opposing team’s best post scorer. With his versatility, along with plenty of depth on that front line, this is a Pioneers attack that will be a force to be reckoned with.

Stopping Baldwin

Chris Baldwin showed flashes of potential on Tuesday, but was inconsistent in terms of scoring because of the depth on in St. John’s front line. Foley rotated Kelley, Drew Vittum, and Alex Fisher onto Baldwin at different points of the scrimmage. They also went to a 2-3 zone at one point to make an attempt to take the talented big man out of Central’s offensive game. Baldwin showed some improvement in his post footwork, especially in developing some go-to post moves and drop step, but the Pioneers’ low post defense was overwhelming at times -- something St. John’s should be able to do against many teams they play this year.

Growing pains for Central

O’Brien, who won five Division 2 state championships in six years from 2000-05 at Charlestown, will surely have some growing pains to push through as this team learns to adjust to him and his system. The Golden Eagles have some scorers at guard to surround Baldwin, including junior Zavia Williams and cousins Cody and Ju’an Williams. But for the most part, Central’s guards looked a little rusty in dealing with the Pioneers’ press and zone defense, which often kept them from being able to set up their offense at all. Zavia Williams did some scoring, but it will certainly take a little bit of time for Cody and Ju’an to shake off the rust, as the two have been solely focused on football for the past few months.

Pioneers show off depth

Adham Floyd had to step in on many occasions last year, starting several games at shooting guard as a freshman when graduated senior Ken Harrington was injured. Floyd suffered a leg injury in AAU ball earlier this year, but looks to be pretty close to 100 percent. He and Kelley are the top leading Pioneers’ scorers from a year ago, and both will be expected to play an even bigger role this year. Look for 6-foot guard Stefan Masciarelli to get some important minutes at guard off the bench, the junior showed to score in bunches when he was in the game against Central on Tuesday.