(LJ Figueroa driving to the hoop – @StJohnsBball)
St. John’s continued their strong start to the season with a dominant performance against Maryland Eastern Shore, as they cruised to an 85-64 win on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John’s improved to 6-0 on the season, and they remain the last unbeaten team in the Big East Conference.
LJ Figueroa continued his emergence as a big performer with another big outing for the Red Storm, as he had 25 points on 10-17 from the field, including 4-7 from behind the arc, with 13 rebounds and 2 assists.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of Figueroa, “He has great instincts, he really does, especially offensively. He has a really good nose for the ball for rebounds. … He has a really good feel for the offensive game. He’s got some things on defense that he needs to clean up, but he’s getting better. He’s got great energy. He’s a great kid. So he’s very coachable. A lot of those things he’ll get better at, but offensively he’s got really great instincts.”
Figueroa is in his first year with St. John’s after transferring from Odessa College, and he said of transiting from junior college to Division I, “A lot of junior college players are making it, so in a way I feel a lot quicker and stronger. I feel like if we know how to play the game that we can play, we can compete with anybody.”
On why he chose St. John and what led to his decision, Figueroa said, “Well, that was always in my head, I was thinking more about my family and having them around. It’s a lot to digest, but having your parents around makes it a lot easier.”
Mullin said of how well Figueroa has transitioned to St. John’s, “It surprised me a little that he’s playing this well. It’s hard, in the summer time I saw his offensive instinct, but that doesn’t mean it automatically carries over so quickly. … He’s been very consistent too.”
St. John’s wasted no time getting an edge in this one, as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the opening few minutes.
That eventually built up to a 26-point advantage, 43-17, on a Figueroa three-pointer with around four minutes left.
St. John’s led 52-28 at halftime, powered by 16 in the first half from Figueroa.
In the second half, St. John’s went up by as much as 28, at 64-36, on a Mikey Dixon three-pointer, six minutes in.
Maryland Eastern Shore responded with a 14-2 run capped by a Ryan Andino three, and pulled to within 15, at 71-56, on another Andino three with 7:43 left.
St. John’s put the game away with an 11-0 run capped by a Figueroa layup at the 2:40 mark.
In addition to the 25 points from Figueroa, Mustapha Heron had 20 points (6-15 FG, 2-7 three-pointers, 6-6 free throws), 9 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Heron said of how they prepared for this game against UMES, who play in the MEAC, “We are mentalists when it comes to preparing for each game the same way. We play as if we are playing NBA players, it doesn’t really matter. We go out, play hard, stick to our principles. It’s the same thing every game.”
Mikey Dixon contributed 14 points (5-8 FG, 4-7 threes) off the bench, with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. Marvin Clark II had 9 points (3-7 FG, 1-5 threes), 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
“I thought we played really well in the first half,” Mullin said of the win. “It made us dictate the tempo based on the outcome of the game. We got a little sloppy mentally in the second half, but the job was accomplished.”
Mullin said of the second half, allowing Maryland Eastern Shore to cut a 28-point deficit down to 15, “We could clean some things up. I think human nature took over and we got a little lackadaisical, but overall we did some good things.”
Mullin said of this performance and learning from the Bowling Green game, an 84-80 win back on November 9, “I think they’ve learned lessons. I’m not quite sure it goes back to that game. I’m not quite sure we took them lightly. I think they just played really well. I thought tonight in the first half we were pretty assertive, dictated tempo pretty aggressively.”
Shamorie Ponds, who poured in 67 points combined in their two wins in the Legends Classic last week, had just 4 points (2-5 FG), but notched 6 assists and 6 rebounds.
Mullin said of Ponds, “You guys have watched him. … He’s a gifted scorer but he’s a great, great passer. He’s one of very few players that can influence the game without shooting. Just with his pace, I thought he was really our best defender tonight and he’s a great passer. Shamorie can score anytime he wants and when the game dictates what’s needed that’s what he does.”
On the number of shots Ponds took, Mullin said, “I think the game dictated that. He has the instincts, he has the skill and ability to do that. I think he’s matured into the type of player that whatever the game dictates is needed, he’s going to do.”