|Marvin Clark of St. John's battles DePaul's Femi Olujobi. @StJohnsBball.
St. John's, who unexpectedly had to play without their star point guard Shamorie Ponds, lost to DePaul, 79-71, on Saturday night at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John's, ranked 24th in the nation, has now lost two straight, dropping their Big East Conference record to 2-3, and they are 14-3 overall. They most likely will drop out of the Top 25 with this loss and the one to Villanova this past Tuesday night.
DePaul was led by Femi Olujobi, who hails from Long Island, as he had 27 points (17 in the second half) on 11-19 from the field, with 8 rebounds. Paul Reed had a double-double with 18 points (7-11 FG, 14 second half points) and 10 rebounds, along with 2 assists. Max Strus also had a double-double with 14 points (nine in the second half) and 12 rebounds. Eli Cain also had 14 points (4-10 FG, 2-3 threes), 2 rebounds, and an assist.
St. John's was led by LJ Figueroa, who had 23 points (12 in the first half, 11 in the second) on 9-14 shooting, including 3-5 from behind the arc, with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Justin Simon had 20 points on 10-16 from the field, with 7 assists and 4 rebounds. Marvin Clark II had a double-double with 14 points (12 in the second half) and 12 rebounds.
The word came down about an hour before the game that Ponds would be unavailable for St, John's due to a lower back strain.
St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin termed Ponds' injury as being "day to day," and said of when he knew he would not have the National Player Of The Week, “I found out today. Obviously he is a great player, so without him, we approach things a little differently. Anytime you take your best player off the team, it has an effect. We came out and we played okay. A little passive, I thought, but overall, in the second half, we picked up our energy. We just need to play through.”
Senior forward Marvin Clark II said of playing without Ponds, “We knew all along that he was not going to be playing. Of course it changes some things, but we have a pretty talented team, so it really doesn’t change too much. I shot 6 of 16 tonight. We didn’t get a lot of things to go in from beyond the arc. That’s the result.”
Simon took the role of point guard and he said of handling the ball and running the offense, “Tonight, I think Shamorie [Ponds] being out, offensively, didn’t hurt as much. He is a great scorer, I just think it was all on the defensive end tonight.”
Mullin said of the team being mentally prepared to play without Shamorie Ponds, “I actually think they were looking forward to it. Going out there and just winning a ball game. We have dealt with that before. It is a part of the game. Guys get hurt and you have to move on. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
DePaul came out strong, jumping out to a 17-10 lead eight minutes in, but St. John's bounced back to take a 22-21 lead on a Simon layup with just under six minutes left in the first half.
DePaul responded with five straight points and they took a 31-30 edge into halftime.
A big moment early in the second half came when Olujobi stole it from Clark and raced to the other end for a dunk. As he was slamming it home, Heron took an ill-advised foul, but the DePaul big man missed the free throw.
The game was tied at 39 at the 14:21 mark, and DePaul responded with a 9-2 run capped by a Reed layup at the 12:12 mark.
Around the 10:00 mark, Strus outhustled Simon off a miss to grab an offensive rebound, then he was fouled by Keita trying to gain position. That was already St. John's 10th team foul of the second half, meaning DePaul would be shooting free throws the rest of the way.
Strus went to the line and drained both free throws to make it 54-45 DePaul, but St. John's responded with a nice run to pull back within four, at 58-54, on a Clark jumper with 7:24 left.
Soon after, the play intensified, and the fouls kept piling up for St. John's, which infuriated Mullin, who took a technical foul at the 5:04 mark.
Strus went to the line and drained the free throw, then Olujobi got to the line after he drew against Clark reaching in on himalong the baseline, then Olujobi ended up hitting him in the face, then made a pair of FTs, and Cain drained another pair around the 4:10 mark to make it 67-56 DePaul.
Strus buried a three with 3:37 left that made it 70-58 and prompted a timeout from St. John's, and the Red Storm came out firing, as Simon got a quick layup, then Clark got a steal followed by a dunk.
The enthusiasm was short-lived, as Olujubi followed with a layup and a dunk, and they were back up 12, at 76-64, with 2:06 left.
St. John's got as close as five, at 76-71, on a Simon dunk with 44 seconds left, but Strus hit a free throw with 28 seconds left, and Cain hit a pair at 0:15 to seal the win.
This game was a defensive affair in the first half, as St. John's shot 37.5 percent (12-32), while DePaul shot 34.2 percent (13-38) before it opened up in the second half, with DePaul shooting 59.3 percent (16-27) to St. John's 57.6 percent (19-33).
The free throw disparity in this one was remarkable, as DePaul took 28 of them (making 17) to just six for St. John's. That was due to DePaul's discipline, as they took just 9 fouls the entire game, while St. John's took 21 (16 in the second half).
Mullin said of the team's execution, “I think we played the post, the last seven to eight minutes, pretty well. You need to hold your ground. They can’t back you down to the basket. You hold your ground. [Femi Olujobi] had some size on him. Sedee [Keita] could handle him. … You just need to hold your ground. That’s part of any competition. I thought we did a little better job of that. I think too much easy positions and then I believe, with 15 minutes left in the game, the fouls took a little aggression away. To me, you need to carve out your space, hold your ground and deal with the ramifications whatever that may be. We will do a much better job from here on out of doing just that, and if that’s illegal, so be it. You can read a stat sheet. You can digest that.”
DePaul dominated down low, as they hauled in 14 offensive rebounds (out of 29 overall) to 6 for St. John's, who had 28 overall.
Mullin was not pleased with that, and he said, “We are really concerned about defensive rebounding and we gave up 14 offensive rebounds. A big focus is transition defense. When you crash the offensive boards, you have bad transition defense. If you play small, you want to get back on defense, not crash the boards. San Antonio [Spurs] probably has the best transition defense in the world. They do not crash the offensive boards. So yes, we like to get back on defense and not give up transition baskets. When my guys are open, they are free to shoot open shots and then get back on defense, not crash the boards and have a bad defensive transition possession. That’s our policy. Thank you for the question.”
Simon said of the size differential they faced in this one, “I thought our post defense was not good tonight, they got whatever looks they wanted down there and they also got offensive rebounds. We just didn’t box out, didn’t rebound and they punched us in the post.”