|The Gotham Classic. Photo by Jason Schott.
Madison Square Garden hosted two college basketball tournaments this weekend. On Saturday afternoon in the Gotham Classic, Louisville beat Memphis, and on Sunday in the Holiday Festival, St. John's beat Iona.
Louisville 81, Memphis 72
This matchup between two teams with matching 7-2 records in the Gotham Classic was all tied up at 38 at halftime, and then Louisville took over in the second half.
Memphis' Jeremiah Martin opened the second half with a layup, and Louisville responded with a 17-2 run capped by a Quentin Snyder three-pointer to make it 55-42 at the 14:55 mark.
Memphis would get back into it, as a Martin jumper pulled them back within four, 60-56, with 8:04 on the clock. Louisville went on another big run, 12-3, to open up a 72-59 lead on a Dwayne Sutton three with 3:33 left. They maintained at least a nine-point edge the rest of the way.
Louisville was led by Snyder, who had 19 points on 6-10 from the field, including 3-4 on threes, with five assists and three rebounds. VJ King had 17 points (6-9 FG, 2-4 threes), with three assists and three rebounds. Deng Adel had 15 points on 5-11 shooting, and all five of those were threes, with three assists and three rebounds. Ray Spalding almost had a double-double, as he finished with 12 points (4-9 FG) and nine rebounds, with five blocks, a steal, and an assist.
Memphis was led by Martin, who had 26 points on 8-15 shooting, 1-3 on threes, 9-9 from the free throw line, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks.
St. John's 69, Iona 59
St. John’s kept the strong start to their season going, with a 69-59 victory over Iona in the Holiday Festival to improve to 9-2 and remaining undefeated at home this season.
Shamorie Ponds led the way with 16 points, and 14 of them came in the second half. Ponds shot 4-13 overall and 0-5 from behind the arc, but he went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line, with five rebounds, four steals, and two assists.
Bashir Ahmed had his second career double-double with 12 points (4-15 FG, 0-2 threes) and a career-high 11 rebounds, along with two assists.
Three other St. John's players notched double figures in points, as Justin Simon had 15 (7-16 FG), while Tariq Owens (3-4 FG) and Melvin Clark II (4-7 FG, 4-5 free throws) had 12 points apiece.
Simon also had seven rebounds, four steals and three assists, Owens had six rebounds and six blocks to add to his tally as the Big East's lead blocker.
St. John's entered this one ranked 18th in the NCAA in scoring defense (62.2 ppg), and has limited its opponent to 60 points or fewer for the seventh time in 11 tries this season, holding Iona to more than 18 points below its scoring average on the campaign.
Missing all 12 of its tries from beyond the three-point arc, St. John’s failed to convert on a triple for the first time since Nov. 15, 2013, in a 73-57 victory over Wagner.
As a team, the Red Storm tallied 10 blocks on the afternoon, the third time this season they have had 10 or more.
The game was tied at 25 at the half, and St. John's opened the second half with a 7-0 streak, pulling ahead 32-25 with just over three minutes gone in the period. The Red Storm maintained its hot scoring hand over the next few minutes, extending its run to 19-4 following a Simon layup with 14:37 to play.
St. John's opened up a 20-point edge, 52-32, following an 8-0 run with just over eight minutes gone in the second half. Facing their largest deficit of the game, the Gaels responded with a 19-6 run, clawing within seven, 58-51, at the five minute mark.
Simon ended the Iona run with a traditional three-point play, bumping the St. John’s advantage back to double digits, 61-51, with 4:21 remaining in the game. Simon’s effort sparked a 7-0 run for the Johnnies, building the lead back to 14, at 65-51, following an Owens put-back slam dubk with just over three minutes to go.
The Red Storm outscored Iona in the paint, 44-16, while also converting 85.2 percent (23-for-27) of its free-throw attempts.
St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of the win, “We didn’t play that well in the first half, but I don’t think it had anything to do with our opponent. I thought we got good looks, missed a lot of easy shots, and I think when you do that, no matter who you are playing against, it keeps that team in the game. At halftime I was thinking, ‘What should I even be changing,’ but I didn’t know because we couldn’t get any better shots than we were getting. I thought we played with a little more energy and moved our bodies in the second half. We were very lethargic, even coming across half court we were laboring. Just put some energy into the game, into our cuts, moved the ball a little better, and as crazy as it may sound, we made about three-or-four layups and created some separation. When we made that little separation, we made two-or-three wide-open layups and it helped us get a little separation.”
Marcus LoVett did not play in this one, and Mullin said of winning this one despite his absence, “With Marcus being out, we don’t really emphasize just the backcourt. We start Tariq, which gives us a whole-new dynamic. We just carry on. It’s not like we are having someone trying to imitate Marcus. He is a great player, and when he’s not there we just play our next man up. Tariq has done a great job, Marvin [Clark II] is playing well, we may have Justin [Simon] try and handle the ball more than usual, but nothing really changes drastically.”
Mullin said of their strong play in the second half, “Maybe they need a little sweat or something to get going. I don’t know. We don’t do a whole lot differently preparation wise as far as eating our meals at the same time and things like that. I wouldn’t say we played so well in the second half today, but we played better.”
This was the first time St. John's played Iona since 1995, and Mullin said of that, “A lot had to do with Tim Cluess and his connection to St. John’s. When you schedule a game, dates have to match up and things like that, so it’s not as easy as just saying that you want to play this team. It was a good experience and there’s a connection there that goes way back. Overall, it wasn’t an artistic game or a pretty game. I didn’t know it had been that long [22 years].”
Mullin said of his relationship with Iona head coach Tim Cluess and his family, “I’ve known Timmy since I first went to St. John’s. It was 1981 when I first met him. His family is a legendary family name at St. John’s. His brother, Kevin, was someone that I got to know very well, and he took very good care of me. There’s a lot of respect. Time flies, but the impact the Cluess family has had on St. John’s is everlasting.”
St. John’s will return to action on Wednesday, playing its sixth and final neutral site game of the regular season against Saint Joseph’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at Mohegan Sun.