(Chris Mullin imparting wisdom to Justin Simon – Photo by Jason Schott)
St. John’s improved to 2-0 on Tuesday night with a dominant 80-55 win over Central Connecticut State at Carnesecca Arena.
Shamorie Ponds led the Red Storm with 21 points, including 5-11 from the field, 1-5 on three-pointers, and 10-12 from the free-throw line, with nine rebounds and four assists.
Marcus LoVett had 15 points, all in the second half, on 6-10 shooting and 3-5 on threes, four assists, three steals, and two rebounds.
Justin Simon had a double-double with 12 points (4-10 FG, 1-1 threes) and 11 rebounds, with three assists and three steals.
Just as in their opening win on Friday night against New Orleans, St. John’s got off to a slow start in this one, and they were tied up 11-11 six minutes into this one with Central Connecticut.
Over the next couple minutes, the Red Storm went on an 8-0 run that turned into an elongated 30-8 run capped by a Bryan Trimble, Jr. jumper at the 3:29 mark of the first half. They took a 16-point lead, 43-27, into halftime.
Central Connecticut cut the deficit to 12, at 56-44, at the 12:51 mark of the second half on a Mustafa Jones layup.
That was the jolt St. John’s needed to put the game away, and they responded with an 18-2 run, capped by a Justin Simon free throw at the 6:37 mark, to go up 74-46.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of his takeaways from the first two games of the season, “I see a lot of good play, both individually and collectively, but there is a lot of room for improvement. I do see that we can be much better in a lot of areas, but we are doing some good things. We just have to understand that and keep on working. I think we’ve identified our weaknesses as a group, and we continue to work on them in practice so we can execute them in a game. I’ve seen some good, overall improvement.”
Mullin said of LoVett shooting 60% from the field in win, “We have some guys who can shoot the ball, no question. However, I’m more concerned about how those shots are being generated. We are out in the open floor…I love that. I love inside-out play, draw-and-kick, and anytime we go into the post we like to get some action. If we are setting good screens and cutting hard…we are going to get our looks, and we have guys who can knock those shots down. I’m really not that concerned. I thought tonight we had good shot distribution and good ball movement. When we do that…offensively we are going to be okay.
On forcing 20+ turnovers in back-to-back games, Mullin said, “It’s something that we’ve worked hard on in the offseason, that’s for sure. Part of that is conditioning because to play defense, you have to be fit. We ask our guys to get up and pressure the ball, we don’t want to gamble…but we want to get up and wear them down all night. Whether it be Marcus [LoVett], Shamorie [Ponds], or Justin [Simon] they have done a really good job of that. That’s their job to pressure the ball and our bigs are there to support them…that allows for us to be in the backcourt and be a presence all night long. It’s something we’ve worked on, and I think we are good at it now…but we are going to get better at it.”
On finishing this one at +9 in the rebounding margin, Mullin said,
“Again, we have to do it as a group. Who gets them is not that important, but we have to go get them. Tonight, Shamorie [Ponds] and Justin [Simon] had 9 and 11…I’ve asked them to get into the paint. If their guy is not underneath the basket, get in the paint and help our bigs get the basketball. They are doing a good job, but it’s going to be a huge test on Thursday. Overall, much improved with four offensive rebounds, and when we get those boards it gets us out into the open floor.”
Ponds said of the team’s defensive game, “Coach preaches to us to pressure the ball so we just try to stay on them from both the front and the back end and to just put as much pressure on them as we can.”
Ponds said of the team’s chemistry, “I feel like this team is really special. Off the court we are all together as a whole, we do everything as a team and I think that carries over onto the court. I am pretty confident in my teammates and the coaching staff, I think we can go far, we just have to put in the work day-in and day-out.”
Simon said of what they need to do moving forward, “We just have to play hard all 40 minutes. I think both halves we came out a little flat, but we played well defensively, got a lot of stops when we needed to, and kept the pressure up.”
St. John’s hosts Nebraska on Thursday in the Gavitt Tipoff Games at Carnesecca Arena at 6:30 pm.
Mullin said of taking on Nebraska, “It’s going to be a physical matchup. I told our players tonight, this is going to be the biggest and strongest team that we’ve played so far. They are going to bring their physicality…that’s always been the case with the Big Ten Conference. We have to meet that with force, and then get back and play our game. That’s going to be a big focal point of ours…keep them off the boards, being physical with their cuts, and matching their physicality. Then on offense and defense, we just have to go out and do what we do.”
On the importance of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, Mullin said, “It’s a great tribute to Dave Gavitt, who I knew very well and was very influential in my career. He’s been a huge contributor to basketball, not just college but also USA Basketball and the NBA. I think these games are wonderful, and I’m glad we have them. As far as the opponent goes, it’s a typical scouting report and then go out there and play for 40 minutes.”