|Marvin Clark II shoots one from long range. @StJohnsBball.|
St. John's improved to a perfect 12-0 in the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 104-82 win over Sacred Heart on Saturday night at Carnesecca Arena.
This is St. John's best start since the 1982-83 season when they opened with 14 straight victories.
The Red Storm is one of just five unbeaten teams remaining in the nation, and they will open the Big East Conference portion of their schedule with a matchup against a local rival in Newark.
“December 29th, we play Seton Hall, so we will be ready," St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of the team’s readiness for Big East play. "Everything that has happened up to this point is in the past now. We will take a few days off for Christmas and then get ready to play...
“Everything we do is geared towards progression and improvement, and a lot is geared towards what we do. As those teams come along, we will prepare for them and the scouting report. We will get our game plan together. Big East Conference play is always exciting.”
St. John's redshirt senior forward Marvin Clark II said of what being 12-0 means to the team, “It is something to build on. It was a great non-conference performance for our university, for our team, and for our program. Next step is Big East play. That’s when it really matters. That’s what we are looking most forward to.”
St. John's jumped out a 26-7 lead in the first five minutes against Sacred Heart. Clark scored 15 of those 26 points, hitting four three-pointers and converting on a three-point play.
Sacred Heart then found a rhythm and pulled within nine, at 46-37, with two minutes left before St. John's closed the half on a 7-1 run to head into halftime with a commanding 53-38 lead.
Clark poured in 23 points in the opening frame, and he said of his hot start, “I just felt good, my teammates did a great job of putting me in positions to catch and shoot open shots. I just felt great and shot it with confidence.”
In the second half, they pulled away early, just as they did on Wednesday against another NEC opponent, St. Francis Brooklyn.
St. John's went on an 18-0 run capped by an LJ Figueroa layup around the 14:00 mark. That made it 71-45, and they went up by as many as 29, at 84-55, on a layup from Mustapha Heron.
Heron poured in 13 in the second half to finish with 23 for the game, matching Clark (who was held scoreless in the second half) for the team lead on the night.
Heron shot 8-for-12 from the field, including 5-6 on three-pointers, with 3 assists and 2 steals. Clark, who was one point shy of his career high, shot 7-13, including 6-11 from behind the arc, with 6 rebounds and an assist. Clark’s six threes set a new career high and are tied for the sixth highest single-game total by a player in St. John’s history.
LJ Figueroa had 15 points (7-12 FG, 1-3 on threes), 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. Shamorie Ponds had 13 points (3-7 FG, all from three-point range), 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. Justin Simon had 10 points (5-9 FG), 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.
The Red Storm set a program record with 17 made 3-pointers, eclipsing the previous high-water mark of 16 that had been reached three times, including earlier this season at Rutgers.
St. John’s touched the century mark for the first time since pouring in 100 against Bethune Cookman in the 2016-17 season opener and registered its highest point total since they scored 104 against Fordham on December 7, 2013 in that year's Holiday Festival. The last time they exceeded 104 points in a single contest came all the way back on Jan. 4, 1999, when they Niagara, 115-70.
St. John's recorded 28 assists on 38 baskets on the night. The last time they registered more than 28 assists came in that 2013 win over Fordham, when the Red Storm dished out 29 dimes on 39 buckets.
Mullin said of the team’s focus and energy, “I thought we came out and played really solid defense, shared the ball well. I believe we went up fourteen to zero, so it is always hard to maintain that. We made some substitutions. [Sacred Heart] is one of the fastest teams pace wise in college basketball, so they are going to get the ball up and down and score their points. I liked the ball movement offensively, 28 assists total. I think there was really crisp ball movement. We did get a little over aggressive defensively, we let people get into the middle, and I thought we had to maintain that pace. It was a pretty good effort tonight. I’ll take 28 assists on 38 made baskets.”
St. John's remains unranked despite the 12-0 start, and part of that is due to the strength of their schedule, that they have not had a signature win against a marquee opponent.
“We can’t control what they say," Ponds said after Saturday's game. "They are going to say what they are going to say. We can only control what we can control. As for getting wins, we may not be playing the top competition but 12-0 is 12-0. We just have to continue to push and bring out a couple more wins.”
Clark said of the team having something to prove to the nation, “We definitely have a lot to prove. We are 12-0, but at the end of the day we haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t played well in Big East play in the past so we definitely have something to prove. If we go out every game with something to prove with a chip on our shoulder, we will definitely be ready for Big East play.”