(Mustapha Heron – @StJohnsBball)
St. John’s won a thriller over Butler, 77-73, in overtime on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
This was a huge win for St. John’s, as they bounced back from a tough loss to Providence on Saturday and their Big East record returns to .500 at 6-6.
St. John’s also takes sole possession of third place in the Big East after they and Butler entered the day in a five-way tie, along with Seton Hall, Georgetown, and DePaul.
DePaul lost home to Marquette, 92-73, to fall to 5-7, along with Butler, and Georgetown is at Seton Hall Wednesday night in Newark, so whoever wins will join St. John’s in third place at 6-6.
One big difference for St. John’s on Tuesday night was the return of Mustapha Heron after a one-game absence, and he scored 28 points on 8-15 from the field, including 2-4 on three-pointer, with 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
Heron said of his performance, “Just attack from beginning to end. I think just trying to play off the closeouts and my teammates swinging the ball, just try to take my advantages. They were closing out late, after I think I hit a couple of shots in the first half, so then just trying to get to the basket.”
Forward Marvin Clark also stepped up, scoring 18 points on 7-16 shooting (4-10 three-pointers), with 2 rebounds and an assist. This was Clark’s best performance in a while, after he was held to six points against Providence on Saturday, and was scoreless at Marquette last Tuesday.
Point guard Shamorie Ponds had 14 points (4-12 FG, 2-4 three-pointers), 7 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Butler was led by Kemar Baldwin, who had 16 points (7-18 FG), 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Paul Jorgensen had 15 points (5-12 FG, 2-7 threes), with 9 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench.
St. John’s came out with a lot of energy in this one, fired up to be at The Lou for the first time in a month, as they raced out to a 17-5 lead capped by a Justin Simon layup six minutes in.
Butler pulled within five later on in the first half, but St. John’s took an eight-point lead, 38-30, into halftime.
In the second half, the Red Storm kept the momentum going, with Heron scoring five straight to give them a 51-40 lead at the 13:34 mark.
Butler responded with an 11-0 run over the next few minutes capped by a Nate Fowler layup that tied the game at 51.
St. John’s went back up six points, 61-56, on a Heron free throw with 5:42 remaining, but Butler once again came back, and eventually took a 66-65 lead on a Jorgensen layup with 17 seconds remaining.
The Red Storm would not go quietly, as Ponds got to the line with four seconds left. He made the first free throw to tie it, and missed the second one, so the game went to overtime tied at 66.
Butler got the scoring started in overtime, as Nate Fowler made a layup, but Heron responded with a pair of free throws, and Ponds completed a three-point play to make it 71-68.
Eventually, that turned into a 90-2 run capped by a Simon layup that made it 75-70 with 1:25 remaining.
Jorgensen got to the free throw line and made one of two free throws, followed by a layup with 40 seconds left that made it 75-73.
On St. John’s ensuing possession, Christian David stole it from Heron, and instead of taking a timeout, he got it to Jorgenson, who missed a jumper.
Davidson got the offensive rebound, but Heron returned the favor and swiped it from his hands under the hoop. Heron was fouled and then drained a pair of free throws to seal the 77-73 win.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of Heron’s aggressiveness, ““He is a great player and one of our best players, I thought tonight his efficiency was key. I thought he made good decisions. Like most players, [Mustapha Heron’s] one to two dribbles, after that third dribble they are going to come. I thought he did a much better job tonight attacking. I thought he also made good decisions when he was catching and shooting off of open spaces. That’s the key for him, he had a great game and we wouldn’t have won it without him.”
Mullin said of what he learned about his team from this game, “I know for sure they are resilient, they care about each other. They care about winning and they are learning how to be more consistent. I think the habits are there. The mindsets are there. It all comes down to consistency on gameday…
“In this league as you see, every game comes down to a few plays. So it is going to take a lot of resiliency to stay focused. After a win you realize you were a few plays away from the other side and vice versa. I think the approach our guys have had has been very transparent. Try and clean up everything that cost us the last game.”
Heron said of his mindset for this one, “[Like] any other game. You pick and choose your spots and you attack. We attack as a team and that’s pretty much it. You pick and choose your spots.”
On pulling the victory out in overtime, Heron said, “It’s definitely going to help us down the road. It was a high-intensity game. The fact that we went to overtime, it was definitely a fun environment out there and I think that this will prepare us for March tremendously.”
Clark II said of the importance of this game after Saturday’s loss to Providence, “That was a hard fought game. We had a rough week this week. Last home game was kind of rough. Being able to fight through adversity, whether it be when they were up with a little bit left, we fought and got it back and made it overtime, and came back to win. We made a lot of big free throws tonight, especially the guy to the left of me [Mustapha Heron]. It’s definitely excitement and we just got to keep it up and get ready for these next six [games].”
St. John’s is back in action on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Madison Square Garden against the current Big East leader and defending national champions, Villanova.