(DePaul setting up their offense – Photo by Jason Schott)
The DePaul Blue Demons dominated the St. John’s Red Storm from start to finish on Saturday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena on the way to a 91-74 victory.
Both teams entered this one 0-3 in Big East Conference play, so this was a golden chance for St. John’s to get their first conference win of the season.
Instead, St. John’s is 0-4 and there are no easy games in sight, as they host Patrick Ewing and his surprising Georgetown team on Tuesday night, followed by Villanova next Saturday night, both of which will be at Madison Square Garden, followed by trips to Xavier and Georgetown.
This comes after St. John’s went 10-2 in non-conference play and followed that up with a home loss to Providence and road losses at Seton Hall and Creighton to start Big East play before the DePaul debacle.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of the 0-4 start in Big East play, “Tonight was just a poor effort from the defensive end and strictly physicality and aggressiveness. It’s not really that complicated. We will get together tomorrow and regroup. That’s what it’s all about. We’re at the bottom of the barrel, and we have to work our way up. The only way to do that is to work hard, be aggressive, don’t question yourself, and I think that we have to be more physical. That’s clear as day. We have to be more physical and tougher. Especially on loose balls, rebounds, 50/50 balls, you name it. We’ve shown that we can do that, and when we don’t we get manhandled. I don’t really think it’s that complicated. We will start regrouping tomorrow, and we play Tuesday so we will get ready for that.”
Mullin said to the question of whether the losing has had an impact on the energy of the team, “I would hope not. I would think that would motivate you. I can’t speak for each mindset, but that motivates me. Losing doesn’t discourage me or anger me, it motivates me.”
St. John’s Redshirt junior Marvin Clark II said of starting conference play 0-4, “I just think we aren’t playing for each other right now. I think that’s the biggest thing. We are not playing for each other, scrambling for each other, not playing offensively like we are capable of, and just not playing for each other right now.”
St. John’s had no answer for DePaul’s dynamic duo of Max Strus, Jr., a native of nearby Hickory Hills, Illinois, and center Marin Maric, their 6-11, 240-pound center.
Maric had 24 points on 7-8 shooting, 2-2 from behind the arc, 9-10 on free throws, 11 rebounds, and five assists. Strus had 22 points on 7-17 from the field, 3-6 on threes, 10 rebounds, and two assists.
DePaul dominated this one from the start, and a pair of Maric free throws gave them their first 10-point lead, 33-23, with 5:39 left in the first half.
St. John’s battled back to within four, 42-38, at halftime, and a Shamorie Ponds layup made it 44-42 in the opening couple minutes of the second half.
Over the next few minutes, DePaul opened up a 60-49 edge on a Tre-Darius McCallum layup at the 13:07 mark.
A Ponds jumper brought St. John’s back within six, 66-60, at the 8:54 mark, but DePaul went on a 13-4 run capped by Marin free throws to make it 79-64 with three minutes left. Their biggest lead was 19, at 88-69, on Brandon Cyrus free throws.
St. John’s was led by Bashir Ahmed, who has been their bright spot on offense in this dismal stretch, and he had 21 points on 7-14 from the field, including 3-7 on threes, with seven rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end.
Shamorie Ponds had 15 points, but shot poorly, just 7-24 from the field, including 1-9 on threes, with six assists and three rebounds. Marvin Clark II had 11 points (4-11 FG, 3-7 threes), four rebounds, and an assist; and Justin Simon had 10 points (3-9 FG), seven rebounds, three assists, and five costly turnovers.
Mullin said of St. John’s not having the physical effort, “It’s disappointing, no question. We all watched it, saw what happened, and now it’s up to us to change it.”
On if the players are still playing for each other, Mullin said, “When you get demoralized like that, nothing is going to look good. I’ll watch it later, but I don’t really have to watch too much to see 15 offensive rebounds, quickness to loose balls, and things like that. I think that tends to magnify things. We were fortunate in the first half to only be four points down. We gave them plenty of put backs, even when we had decent defensive possessions. They were just able to tip the ball in. It’s not finishing off the possession, and I don’t know.”
Clark II said he will be calling a team meeting soon, and Mullin said of of the need for one, “I don’t think there is ever a right or wrong time to call a team meeting because communication is always good. It just has to be followed up by action. Team meetings only work when they are followed up by action.”
The Red Storm were without Marcus LoVett for the fourth straight game, and Mullin said of his injury, “I’m supposed to see the doctors after the game today, and I will get an update from them.”
St. John’s senior forward/guard Bashir Ahmed said of starting conference play 0-4, “Like [Marvin Clark II] said, we aren’t scrambling for each other. We just have to start playing better, and just come prepared.”
Ahmed said of their struggles on the defensive side, ”We just need to be more disciplined. We have to go back to our defensive principal and keep locking in. I think in our last two games against Seton Hall and Creighton we were playing hard, but we just couldn’t maintain a lead. Today, however, we just got punked on the rebounds.”