|Shamorie Ponds (2) orchestrates the St. John's offense. Photo by Jason Schott.
St. John's surged to a big lead early, and held off a late push by Seton Hall to hold on for a 78-70 victory on Saturday night at Madison Sqaure Garden.
St. John's earned their 20th win of the season and they improved to 8-7 in Big East play, and are now in sole possession of third place in the conference, ahead of Seton Hall, who fell to 7-8.
This was one St. John's wanted, as they were out for revenge after their hard-fought game in Newark on December 29th ended with some controversy, as a clock issue gave Seton Hall a late possession, and Shavar Reynolds won it with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
“It was definitely payback." said St. John's point guard Shamorie Ponds. "We always kept in the back of our minds what they did to us at the end of the game.”
Ponds looked as motivated as he ever has, as he led the way with 27 points on 10-18 from the field (1-6 on three-pointers), with 5 assists, 5 steals, and 3 rebounds.
St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of Ponds’ playmaking and the team’s performance, “It’s a combination of mental and physical, so when he is aggressive both ways he’s very effective. Just like the Villanova game, sometimes the toughest thing to manage is a great start because the game is going to change on its own. We weathered the storm. Shamorie, Justin [Simon] and Marvin [Clark II] played like the veterans they are. I think the guys that came off the bench did a great job. Bryan [Trimble Jr] stepping into the starting lineup; I thought he was really good defensively and he was aggressive. Sedee [Keita] was really good off the bench. Greg [Williams Jr.] came in and gave us a great lift. Everyone who came into the game made a positive impact. They brought the game to a better level. The bench did a good job and the veteran guys carried us.”
Ponds said this game "definitely" changed his mentality on playmaking, adding, "The guys were cheering me on and told me to do my thing. It felt good to definitely get a win in front of the crowd. It was a great win for us.”
St. John's came out firing on Saturday night, as they raced out to a 28-5 lead, capped by an LJ Figueroa layup at the 11:11 mark, and powered by 11 points from Marvin Clark II in the stretch.
Seton Hall started to get back into it, as Michael Nzei corralled the ball after a Sedee Keita block, and put it back to make it 28-10 St. John's at the 9:04 mark. Eventually, the Pirates went on an 11-0 run capped by a Shavar Reynolds layup at 6:45 that made it 28-16.
The Red Storm were kept off the board for six minutes and 44 seconds, until Shamorie Ponds hit a baseline jumper that made it 30-16. Later on, Ponds set up Figueroa with a three-pointer in the final seconds to send them into the half up 38-20.
St. John's was led in the first half by Ponds, who had 13 points on 6-9 from the field, including 1-3 from behind the arc, with 2 assists. Clark had 11 points on 4-7 shooting and 3-6 on three-pointers.
As a team, St. John's shot 48.5 percent (16-33) from the field in the first half, while holding Seton Hall's strong offense to just 28 percent shooting, or 7-25 from the field.
Seton Hall came out firing in the second half, opening it on an 11-2 run, powered by six points from Sandro Mamukalashvili, and that brought them within nine, at 40-31.
St. John's came right back with a 17-4 run capped by a three-pointer from Brian Trimble that was from NBA distance, and that made it 57-35 with 11:30 remaining. This was just one point less from the 23-point lead (28-5) they had early on.
It would seem like this was it for the night, but, this is college basketball in 2018 where no lead is safe, as St. John's knows from how they came back from a 19-point deficit in the first half last Sunday at The Garden. They also had to face down demons from how they coughed up a 14-point lead against Seton Hall in late December.
Seton Hall's run started as Mamukalashvili made a pair of free throws, and then Trimble took a technical foul, which sent Myles Powell to the line, and he drained a pair of FTs as well. Powell then made a layup on a fast break, got a steal, and went right back for another fast-break basket to make it an 8-0 Pirates run and it was 57-43 St. John's with 9:58 remaining.
It stayed that way for the next few minutes, as Sedee Keita drained a corner jumper to make it 67-54 St. John's with 5:09 remaining, but Seton Hall had one more push in them.
The Pirates went on a 9-1 run capped by a Michael Nzei free throw with 1:46 left that made it 68-63 Red Storm.
After Ponds missed a three with 1:17 left, Powell then went down the lane and tried a floating pass to Quincy McKnight, coming in from the left under the hoop, and it was picked off by Clark.
Clark went to the line and drained a pair of free throws, then after Powell missed a three, Ponds went to the line and made another pair from the charity stripe to make it 72-63 Red Storm with 40 seconds left.
In addition to Ponds' 27 points, Clark had 18 points (6-10 FG, 4-8 threes) with 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and an assist.
This was Senior Night for Clark, and he said, “It was crazy. I just want to thank Red Storm Nation. The energy was electric. They welcomed my family and I on the court before for senior night festivities. I just appreciate it. It was great. The best thing is, is that we got the W."
Clark said of his time at St. John's, “I think what I am going to take away from it most is just the fan base. Red Storm Nation, my teammates, my coaching staff; those are the three things that I am going to take away from this the most. Really the fan base though. Since I’ve came to this university, I didn’t come here as a freshman, I transferred in, so I was already an outsider and I felt like my coaching staff, teammates and the fan base has done an amazing job in making this a second home for me. For that, I am truly grateful and I can never thank everyone enough.”
Justin Simon had 10 points (4-6 FG), 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Figueroa had 9 points (3-11 FG, 1-4 threes), with 2 blocks, a rebound, and a steal.
Seton Hall was led by Powell, who had 26 points on 9-21 from the field, including 2-8 from behind the arc, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, but 5 turnovers. Michael Nzei had 11 points (4-4 FG), 3 rebounds, and an assist.
Mullin said of shutting down Powell in the first half, when he was held to 4 points and 2-8 shooting, “Justin Simon is one of the best defenders in the country. He’s one of the best lockdown defenders in the country. He picked up a few questionable fouls, so when he came off, I think [Myles Powell] got loose a little bit, but Justin did a great job just putting his imprint on the game, that he was going to do anything it took. He’s a heck of a player, heck of a scorer. Justin did a great job, and I think we did a great job. The other four guys were recognizing where he was, and we always preach no middle, so that is really the only time they scored on us, when we gave up the middle. We forced the ball to the baseline, had good help on defense, and forced a lot of turnovers in that first half, but again, you are not going to maintain that. I think we forced 16 turnovers at halftime. You aren’t going to maintain that and they are going to find some rhythm. As the game flipped and the flow of the game changed, we were able to do enough to win.”
Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard said of his team having a potential lack of intensity during St. John's game-opening 28-5 run, "I've never questioned this team's effort or their intensity. I give Marvin Clark a lot of credit. He came out -- I thought he really set the tone with his defense -- and offensively, I just thought he came out and really, really got us on our heels. But these guys, it's not from a lack of effort, it's just that you've got to give St. John's credit. They came out and they knew how important this game was, and they came out hungry, like a pack of dogs, and put us on our heels a little bit."
Powell said of their performance, "Coach is going to say the effort was there because he always has our back, but as a captain and a leader, I don't think it was there. We found ourselves down 20 points, and it's kind of hard to always play from behind, so like Coach said, we're going to go back and make some changes, and we're going to figure it out."
Willard said of Seton Hall's focus at beginnings of games, "This group -- we've been in a lot of close, tight games -- I don't think this group has gone through it. I think the biggest thing I'm learning about them is they don't understand this time of year, I think, what it takes to really kind of win on a nightly basis, and so I think it's learning lessons. Sandro, Quincy, Myles Cale, for the most part -- and the rest of these guys -- have never been in this situation, and you have really just two guys that have been, and they've never been in the roles that they are, so I think they don't know. I am going to make some changes to the starting lineup moving forward, just because you can't have your starting backcourt 6-for-13 on assists and turnovers, so I am going to make some changes to maybe help that out."
Seton Hall is off for the next week, and they are back in action at Georgetown Saturday, March 2 at 6:30 pm.
Willard said of what the week off will do for his team,
"I think, as the guys that cover us a lot will tell you, they'll tell you I haven't been a huge fan of the schedule -- I think that would probably be an understatement -- I know Myles Powell needs a couple days, and I think more than anything, he needs it mentally. The rest of these guys, I like the rest of these guys that haven't played a lot of games in this situation to continue with the rhythm, but I'm looking forward to the week off. Like I said, I love these guys, I love this team. We've been in a lot of close games, man, all year long -- it started in November and it takes a toll on you, physically and mentally -- and as good as these guys have been, they need a little reset button to kind of just get their batteries charged, especially the guy sitting next to me (Powell). He's done it all year, and I've got great confidence that he's going to be able to bounce back and do it again."
St. John's will be back in action for their home finale at Carnesecca Arena (also known as The Lou: credit Josh Adams of College Hoops Digest) on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. against Xavier.