Saturday, February 10, 2018

St. John's Surge Makes Them The Basketball Story Of New York

The Carnesecca Arena crowd giving St. John's a standing ovation during pregame introductions. Photo by Jason Schott.

The St. John's Red Storm have a slogan, "We Are New York's Team. That is certainly true now, as they are the focus of New York basketball for the rest of this season.

A couple wins over top five teams, a player on a record-setting run, led by a coach who is one of the faces of the glory days of the program will do that.

St. John's hosted Marquette on Saturday at Carnesecca Arena, and the building had quite a different feeling than the last time they were there, Tuesday, January 30, when they lost a heartbreaker to Xavier.

To start with, the fans gave them a standing ovation, a show of thanks for the wins over Duke and Villanova in the past week, as they were introduced before the game, and the Red Storm responded with another big performance.

St. John's beat Marquette 86-78 for their third straight win. It improved their overall record to 13-13 and their Big East Conference record is 2-11.

They are getting hot at the right time. There are five Big East regular season games left, so if they win a bulk of them, they will finish with a strong overall record and be the hottest team going into the Big East Tournament. Hard to believe, but an NCAA Tournament bid is not out of the question.

St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of the atmosphere at Carnesecca Arena, “Everybody loves winners, right. That’s what happens when you win. I think more importantly there’s an appreciation for what these kids have gone through and not hanging their heads or giving up. There’s as much appreciation for that as there is for the wins. Obviously, anytime you compete you want to win. If you handle it the right way and don’t give up and keep working, I think there’s a lot to be said for that.”

Shamorie Ponds poured in 44 points on Saturday afternoon, and he has now scored an astonishing 134 points in the past four games, and over 30 points in three of those contests.

He shot 16-23 overall, 4-7 from behind the arc, and was 8-9 on free throws, with four rebounds and two assists. The only blemish was eight turnovers.

Ponds said of his performance, “It felt good to see the ball go in, trying to mix it up. Going to the rack, free throws, mid-range, three point, it felt good out there. … Just to see one go in from the beginning of the game. I was confident the entire game. I just try to keep the foot on the gas.”

Ponds' 44 points were the most in Carnesecca Arena history, and he said of that, "On scoring the most points in Carnesecca Arena history, “It’s a blessing. All the great players who came through this university, for my name to be up there, it is a dream come true. A blessing.”

Mullin said of Ponds' performance, “I think its self-explanatory. Historic. He broke the building record, so that speaks for itself. Just an incredible performance, he’s played really well since he’s been here. Looks like he’s got more pop and more energy. ... I was glad to see that. It was a legendary, historic performance no comparisons.”

Justin Simon said of Ponds’ day, “Amazing. He’s been playing amazing basketball these past couple of games. I’m just like you. I get caught up watching. … I love giving [Shamorie] the ball and seeing him go to work. And these past games he’s done just that.”

St. John's as a team shot 60 percent, or 30-50, overall and 40 percent, or 8-20 on three-pointers, while holding Marquette to just 40.6 percent, or 23-69 from the field, and 12-30, or 40 percent from behind the arc.

The St. John's defense was perhaps the best it was all season, as they kept Marquette' dynamic duo of Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey in check.

Howard, coming off a 32-point effort in a win at Seton Hall on Wednesday, had 18 points, which is fine, but shot a dismal 6-19 from the field and 2-8 from behind the arc.

Rowsey was hot from the start, with 14 points in the first ten minutes, and he wound up with 34 points for the game, but shot a putrid 11-26 overall and 6-15 on three-pointers.

Just as they did on Wednesday at Seton Hall, Marquette came out firing, with Sam Hauser and Rowsey each draining threes to give them a 6-0 edge in the first couple minutes. St. John's came right back with an 8-0 spurt, started by a  layup from Ponds, a three from Marvin Clark II, and a three from Ponds.

Marquette battled back and was up 26-19 at the 7:04 mark after Rowsey drained three straight free throws. St. John's responded with a 9-0 run, with Justin Simon getting four points in the span, to take a 28-26 lead, and the Red Storm led 34-32 at halftime.

St. John's came out firing in the second half, as Tariq Owens drained a three followed by a layup to make it 39-32 in the opening minute.

Marquette hung in there, with Howard draining a three to make it 58-55 St. John's at the 10:10 mark.

That was when Ponds took over. Starting with a jumper, he scored 13 in a row to make it 71-61 Red Storm at the 7:40 mark. He then had a burst where he scored eight straight, capped by a three at the 2:07 mark that made it 82-71 and gave him 42 points on the day. He got his final two points on a pair of free throws with 57 seconds left when the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Ponds said of the St. John's fans, “I mean it feels good to know that they are back with us. We had a sellout crowd. So I mean, we have to credit them. We feed off their energy and got the win.”
Justin Simon had 16 points (4-8 FG and 8 free throws) and 11 rebounds to give him a double-double.

Simon said of the feeling around the team during the winning streak, “It’s about time we turned it around. Coach [Mullin] has said all we need is one. ... We’ve lost every way we could, and now we learn from our mistakes. We limit them. We play hard and play together. Shamorie [Ponds] had an unbelievable night tonight. I thought everyone played well. It was just an amazing atmosphere tonight. It was good.

"We were getting that feeling that it’s about time. We had a tough stretch starting conference play 0-11. All we needed was one, and now we’re going to keep it going.”

Mullin said of how this week felt compared to the month preceding it, “The six weeks before that felt like six years. I don’t know if you want to compare that. This week has been the same; we feel better no question about it. … Of course it feels good to be on the other side, but like I said the process of hanging in there and maintaining work ethic and positive attitude might be more gratifying than winning. We know what could happen during a streak like that, so that’s a testament to the players.”

On whether the win over Duke gave the team a spark or was it a culmination of hard work, Mullin said, “It’s both. When you’re close it’s ok to be that, but you feel terrible. That’s the time when it’s more important to maintain your positive attitude and work ethic. When you rise up and shoot a shot, you’re either going to miss or make it, that’s basketball. When you walk into a game, you’re either going to win or lose. A lot of stuff in between you don’t control, your attitude and preparation that you control.

"When it goes the other way, its frustration and disappointing, but like I said that’s what is most gratifying about these wins, what we went through to get to this point. We also understand that on a given day, it happens. A lot of things happen to different people over the course of their lives, we are all going to go through adversity, but how you handle it is as important as or more important than actually what happens. … I’m old so it doesn’t really matter to me, but for [our players] it’s a good life lesson that they hung in there and have started to get rewarded. They didn’t give up and if you give up you have no chance. Give yourself a chance, keep working hard and who knows what’s going to happen. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but give yourself a shot.”

Mullin said of maintaining their work ethic throughout the season, “To me, being consistent is the most important thing. That’s how you develop the respect of your teammates, that’s how you develop your daily habits. That’s win or lose, you have your routine and you stick to it. When you get knocked down you don’t all of a sudden not show up, that’s not how you do it. No matter what goes on you have your core values and you stick to them. When you stick to your routine, assuming you have a good routine that is, that’s how you gain respect. That’s the daily approach, we don’t really change that much when we win or lose.”

St. John's will look to continue this streak, and avenge a loss earlier this season, when they hit the road to take on DePaul on Wednesday night.

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