|Justin Simon bringing the ball up. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The St. John's Red Storm came back from an early nine-point deficit to cruise to an 81-66 win on Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
This was a much needed win for St. John's, as they improved to 3-3 in Big East play (15-3 overall) after losses to Villanova and DePaul last week.
St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of his team bouncing back after two losses, “No matter what happens in the game before, it is always important how you play in the next game. That starts with, if you have a day or two to prepare. We felt that way at Georgetown. We felt that way at Villanova. You are always going to feel that way, especially during conference play. It’s great to be prepared, but more important to follow through on the things that we thought that we needed to do to win, and I felt tonight, that everybody did their job.”
St. John's point guard Shamorie Ponds, who missed Saturday's loss against DePaul with lower back pain, was a game-time decision for this one and he passed the test to score 22 points on 8-17 from the field, including 2-4 on three-pointers, with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
Ponds said of how his back felt in this one, “It’s getting better. It’s definitely getting better. I can’t put a number on it but it’s definitely getting close to 100%.”
On the slow start he had and then turning it on late in the first half to have 14 points by halftime, “I was feeling the game out, trying to get my teammates involved, play in the motion, not trying to force anything and then coach told me it’s time to go.”
Mullin said of Ponds' play and the team’s response to being outmatched by Creighton's size, “First off, Shamorie [Ponds] is one of the best players in the country. My coach, Coach Carnesecca, I speak to him often, I talked to him this morning, said that, 'The only advice I have is to make sure that Shamorie plays.' A huge difference with [Ponds] in the lineup. As far as size, you can be big and bad. We have good players and we rebounded a little differently, we play the post a little differently but it doesn’t mean we are at a disadvantage. I feel like we are at an advantage. I like our matchups. If we impose our will and have the right disposition then we have the advantage. I think you see that at every level. Being good is better than being big. If you’re big and good then that’s a problem, because there aren’t many of them around.”
St. John's trailed 28-19 early before Ponds reeled off eight straight points ( a pair of three-pointers and a jumper) to pull them within 31-27 at the 5:08 mark of the first half.
After a Creighton turnover, Justin Simon got a layup and was fouled. When he missed the free throw, Marvin Clark II swooped in for the put-back to tie the game at 31. The Lou (coined by Josh Adams of College Hoops Digest) was rocking, and the momentum continued as LJ Figueroa got a layup and Simon drained a three-pointer, followed by a steal, and he made a free throw to make it 37-31 St. John's with 3:16 left in the first, capping off a 13-0 run and an extended 18-3 stretch. St. John's took a 39-34 lead into halftime.
Creighton came out strong in the second half, pulling within one, 42-41, on a three from Davion Mintz four minutes in. Their surge was short-lived, and from then on, it was all St. John's.
St. John's went on an 11-2 run capped by a Simon three that made it 52-43 at the 12:53 mark, and then after Creighton pulled within five, they went on an 8-2 run capped by a Figueroa layup to make it 64-53 with 6:56 left. The Red Storm led by as many as 17, at 81-64, on a Mustapha Heron dunk with 1:15 left.
In addition to Ponds' 22 points, Heron finished with 18 points on 7-10 shooting, including a three-pointer, with 3 rebounds, in 27 minutes (he was limited to 12 minutes in the first half due to two fouls in the first three minutes).
Figueroa had a double-double with 16 points on 7-12 from the field, including a three, and 13 rebounds, with 2 assists, and Mullin said of the forward, “I thought he played a great overall game. He’s been playing great for us. Obviously tonight with 16 points and 13 boards, he played an overall great game. It was a total team effort. He even made some beautiful passes towards the end when [Creighton] went into that zone.”
Ponds said of how Figueroa plays the game, “He brings it all for us. He can score. He defends. He rebounds. He brings energy. He gets the crowd involved. We can count on him a lot. He is a blessing. I don’t know where this team would be without him.”
Figueroa said of the team’s offense and what makes it hard to stop, “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so that helps us out, having a good point guard like Shamorie [Ponds], he adjusts assignments we all know each other’s knacks and what we can and can’t do on the court so it all helps us out.”
Simon also had 16 points (6-17 FG, 2-4 threes) with 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists.
Creighton was led by Marcus Zegarowski with 17 points on 6-11 from the field, including 5-8 from behind the arc, with 4 assists and 3 rebounds.
Creighton Head Coach Greg McDermott said of St. John’s, “It's a hard matchup. There is a lot of versatility in their lineup. I thought Shamorie [Ponds] in the second half and their ability to get Mustapha [Heron] into post isolation really hurt us. On film, I was so impressed with [LJ Figueroa's] range. It's really hard to guard him six, seven, eight feet behind the three-point line. The space that he creates for a guy like Ponds to operate, and Shamorie did a great job finding [Figueroa] on the weak side. We're not the only ones that have had a hard time matching up with them. They have done a good job of that all season.”