(St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin – Photo by Jason Schott)
St. John’s is heading into Saturday’s game against Marquette at Carnesecca Arena flying high after knocking off Duke last Saturday and Villanova on Wednesday night.
Duke entered that game ranked fourth in the nation, while Villanova was ranked number one nationally. These were St. John’s first wins since December 20 and broke an 11-game losing streak.
Saturday with Marquette will feature a matchup between St. John’s guard, the current Big East Player of the Week, Shamorie Ponds, who is averaging 30 points per game in their last three contests, and Marquette’s Markus Howard, who scored 32 in their win over Seton Hall on Wednesday night. Howard has been named Big East Player of the Week twice this season.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin addressed the media on Thursday and Friday, and here is what he had to say after a big week for his program:
On the win over No. 1/1 Villanova on Wednesday night:
“I’m happy about last night’s game. It was very similar to a lot of the games that we had been losing, but we just made some big plays, some free throws, and were able to get out of there with a win. The guys are feeling good. It’s been a rough five weeks, but their perseverance is starting to pay off.”
On the upcoming game against Marquette:
“They are one of the best offensive teams in the country, so we have to keep our defense locked in. We will be ready for a defensive battle, and will keep trying to play like we’ve been playing.”
On Shamorie Ponds scoring 90 points over the last three games:
“He’s been effective virtually from day one. He’s scored the ball over the last three weeks or so really well. He seems to be moving really well. He was chipped up a little bit, and we don’t have the deepest team right now so he has to play a lot of minutes, but he looks really fresh physically. He’s getting quick separation, getting to the line, but he’s doing a really, really good job of mixing up being an aggressive scorer and making good decisions. He’s playing at a high level, and he always has been a tremendous player.”
On whether Ponds relishes playing against top opponents:
“Again, he’s gone over 1,000 [career points] so he does it every night. Obviously, when you win those close games, he gets more attention, but he’s been pretty consistent each night. It looks better against bigger teams, but I think he does it all the time. He’s a consistent player.
“He’s played well the whole time here, he really has. … In those games he has played better, maybe more efficient. I just look at his decision making and the balance of when to score and when to [make plays]. That’s the big thing. In games, the player has to do that. When you are in the middle of a game, you can’t yell out ‘Pass’ or ‘Shoot’ when the guy is driving. That’s part of the momentum of the game, part of the experience, part of playing with teammates, and you need some continuity. When Shamorie gets to the rim, it’s not about him just getting separation. His teammates are in the right place to not allow a help defender to get there. All of those things matter. We need him to do that, but the other four guys on the team have to be synchronized and understand what we are doing. We are getting a little better at that.”
On how the team has stayed even-keeled during the losing streak:
“I don’t think it’s possible to get ahead of yourselves when you’re getting your head beat in. As far as how we handled it, even-keeled is the ultimate goal, but it doesn’t mean that after the game you aren’t down. You have to come back, and that’s what we did. The fact of the matter is we played pretty good basketball, not well enough [to win] and not very different in the wins [versus Duke and at Villanova]. I know there’s a sense that there’s something else there, but even in the Villanova game we missed three dead layups. We probably would have won by 11 or 13. We missed them, but we got it back somehow. In the game of basketball, layups and free throws matter. Getting them is important, but most important is finishing them. It’s not always just at the end of the game. They all add up [over the course of the game]. Through that period of time [11-straight losses] we would watch film, and that’s what we saw. It wasn’t like we were editing the film to put fake stuff in there, it’s what we saw. That helped a little bit, but we still have to go out there and do it. There’s nothing more important than positive reinforcement with wins. That’s the most important thing.”
On if the loss versus No. 6/6 Xavier on Tuesday, January 30 helped the confidence:
“I don’t know if it built confidence because it was probably so similar to other games before that, but I think the one thing that did help was we were close and it wasn’t debatable. We were in probably seven two-possession games. When you looked at the film, it wasn’t necessarily the last two minutes. It was possessions throughout the whole game that we didn’t capitalize on. We empathized making layups, free throws, taking care of the ball, getting defensive stops and rebounding the ball to get up the court. We’ve been pretty solid all year defensively, but we haven’t converted in the open floor. We’ve been a little better at that, and not necessarily at the end of the game, but throughout the game.”
On late-game execution:
“Late-game execution is important. It is a 40-minute game and we’ve been a little better executing. … Nothing builds confidence like being down a little bit, and then fighting your way through it for the win.”
On Ponds being an aggressive player:
“Shamorie has a great feel for the game and has great instincts. He’s going to attack the rim. He’s a dynamic scorer. He’s a good shooter, dynamic scorer, and has the ball in his hands a lot. That makes him a tough cover. He’s clever so when he’s getting to the rim, he puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
On the rise of offense in the Big East since his playing days:
“It was a long time ago, but obviously the three-point shot has been the biggest impact on basketball. The Big East in particular is a real high-scoring league and tremendous players come out. The coaches do a great job of getting their best players shots, but it’s a phenomenal league even going back to the old Big East. To me, it’s tougher now because top-to-bottom every team can beat anyone on any given night. Each game is coming down to one or two possessions it seems, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the top team or the bottom team. So, top-to-bottom the Big East is as tough as it’s ever been.”