(Justin Simon shooting a free throw with support from the St. John’s fans – Photo by Jason Schott)
St. John’s opened the new season in style on Friday night, with a dominant 77-61 win over New Orleans at Carnesecca Arena.
Sophomore guard Marcus LoVett picked up right where he left off, as he poured in 23 points on 7-14 from the field, including five three-pointers. He also had four steals and three assists.
His fellow sophomore stand-out, guard Shamorie Ponds, had a nice night, with 12 points (5-15 FG, 2-9 on threes), seven rebounds and six assists.
Marvin Clark II, the junior forward who transferred from Michigan State, had 15 points on 5-6 shooting, including two threes, with three rebounds and two assists, in his Queens debut.
Clark said of his night, “It felt great to finally get out there and play against some competition and play when it matters. When you have a guy like Marcus [LoVett] with me who can create shots for everyone, it makes my job a lot easier. With Coach’s system that we have in place, we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things…lot of guys who can space the ball and score. It really just makes the game go a lot easier, and I feel very comfortable on the floor. Happy to get that first win out of the way…it wasn’t pretty but we got it done. I’m happy and very thankful.”
Justin Simon, who transferred from Arizona, had nine points on 4-6 from the field, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
St. John’s and New Orleans played even for most of the first half, with the Red Storm holding a 14-13 lead halfway through it.
Clark hit a three at the 7:46 mark to make it 23-16 St. John’s, but New Orleans would close back to within two, 30-28, on an Ezekiel Charles three with 3:07 left.
St. John’s responded with a 5-0 run, and then another 7-0 run capped by Tariq Owens free throws in the final seconds to give them a 37-28 lead at halftime.
In the second half, St. John’s began to take over. Bashir Ahmed drained a three to make it 47-33 at the 16:30 mark. He made a layup a couple minutes later to make it 52-36.
St. John’s maintained a 15-point lead the rest of the way, and were up by as many as 22, at 68-46, on LoVett free throws with 5:57 left in the game.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of the opening night performance, “I thought we played okay, but I thought it was a little choppy. I thought we had a hard time in the first half…we put them on the line a lot and couldn’t get going. We played a lot better in the second half even though we didn’t shoot as well. The last five or six minutes were a little sloppy again, but for the most part there were some good moments. Obviously, there were some things that we can look at on film and get better at…they hammered us on the boards pretty good. That’s always a concern. From that standpoint, it looked like a first game.”
On the team’s approach, Mullin said, “The environment we are trying to create is to approach everything the same way every day, and rely on that training. Whether it is technique on boxing out or free-throw technique…that’s all stuff you practice on your own. That’s why you do all those reps, so when the game comes and your muscle memory takes over. We’re going to continue to build on expectations and improve, but we still have to go out there and do it. It’s one thing to talk and write about it…if you rehearse the right way and create the right daily habits, you will show improvement. I think that’s where we are at right now.”
Mullin said of the impact of Marvin Clark II, “I think he’s going to continue to get better. He’s definitely a threat in a lot of different areas, and he’s going to be a great addition for us. I do think as the season moves along that he’ll settle into a more comfortable role and keep producing.”
Clark said of the game, “Just being ready as a team from the beginning of the game…we only have nine guys, so everyone is going to get their shot. As a team, we have to be better. You know guys are going to have their nights when they are in foul trouble. We are going to have guys pick it up when that happens. Just collectively as a team we have to be able to come off the bench and bring something to the game.”
On conquering opening night with a win, Clark said, “It feels really good to get a win. In those opening ten minutes of the first half we had some jitters, but we knocked those out and those last ten minutes we closed out pretty strong. We came out pretty hard for the opening of the second half, and like I said, we had a little drop off on the final ten minutes of the game…we just have to figure out how to put a complete 40-minute game together. Once we do that, I think we will be tournament ready.”
St. John’s shot 40 percent from the three-point line, making 12 out of 30 three-point attempts.
Mullin said of whether the 3-point shot will play a large part in the offense this season, “We have good shooters, and to me it’s really how you generate those opportunities. We want to do a lot of drive-and-kicks, post-ups, good screens, and transitions…they are all good looks for a 3-point shot. We want to stay away from just coming down, shaking-and-baking, and then just launching. That’s not even a field-goal attempt to me. If the shot is generated from ball movement and body movement, I’m fine with them shooting. We practice it a lot, but we always look to do it differently on each look. I have confidence in our guys that they can knock those shots down.”
LoVett said of the three-pointer becoming a big part of this team, “I think it’s one of the personalities of our team. We have guys who can shoot outside shots, but can also get inside and be versatile. We also have guys who can pick-and-pop, so it’s about what we want to do as a team and what works best for us.”
Mullin said of using a nine-man rotation, “It’s one of those things…if you have 12 then you worry about getting everyone in, and with nine I think it’s very manageable. At some point, everyone is going to get their shot and their chance to play. Game-to-game that may change, but nine is fine. I like our rotations because it gives everyone a chance to contribute and be part of the team. The rotations may change depending on who we are playing, who’s playing well, if there is foul trouble…but I’m okay with that.”
LoVett said of short rotation impacting the decision-making process on the defensive side of the game, “Without a doubt. We are shorthanded so that means we have to be on our toes defensively and always be aware. We have to communicate and stay together in order to do what we want to do.”
LoVett said of the possibility of multiple players playing over 30 minutes a game, “I think our group is mentally strong and physically strong. We work so hard during the summer just to get to this point, so I feel like that is something we will be able to do as a team. I feel like anyone who is called upon to play extra minutes will be able to do it…I’m not really concerned about it at all.”
Mullin said of the ball movement and unselfishness of the team on offense, “I thought in the first half New Orleans did a good job of changing defenses and I think we got a little too concerned about what they were playing rather than just playing…kind of stopping and trying to figure it out. So, credit to them. Overall, that’s what we practice…to be unselfish on offense.”
LoVett said of what makes this year’s team different than previous teams, “Togetherness. We are more together than anything, honestly. These guys bring so much energy to our team that we can all build from. So, we just have to keep building, staying strong in practice, and listening to what our coaches have to say.”