(St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin – Photo by Jason Schott)
The St. John’s Red Storm notched its 10th win of the season on Wednesday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena, as they outlasted Saint Joseph’s, 77-73, in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase.
St. John’s finishes the non-conference part of the schedule with a superb 10-2 record. After an eight-day break for Christmas, they host Providence on Thursday, December 28 at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of how he feels about their 10-2 start, “I’m proud of them. They played really great defense these first 12 games, which shows you the commitment to each other. I think we have a long way to go too. We have a lot of improvements that we can make, so I think we’ve put ourselves in a great position.”
Mullin said of the team improving throughout the season, “I think we’ve shown our most improvement on the defensive end, and that’s been consistent. Tonight was one of our better offensive games, but we still aren’t entirely in our rhythm. I think from a coaching standpoint that’s the ideal situation. We have really good scorers and really good shooters, and I think it’s just a matter of staying confident, taking those rhythm shots, and I keep telling our guys that it will come. I really believe that. Last year, we were a pretty potent offensive team, and we added to that. We just have to keep our confidence, and keep the ball moving. As long as we get good shots, we are going to make them.”
On the upcoming game with Providence and Big East play approaching, Mullin said, “We are not really going to talk about any future matchups yet. We are going to take a break now. When we regroup, we will get back to preparing for Providence. I think that’s the best thing they’ve picked up from me. I don’t look too far ahead. I focus on the next practice, and try prepare for what I think is going to help us win our next game. Whatever happens, we deal with the outcome and then move on.”
In the win against St. Joe’s, the Red Storm was led Shamorie Ponds, who had 28 points on his most efficient effort of the season from the field, shooting 9-of-15 overall, including 7-of-8 from two-point range.
In addition to reaching the 28-point mark for the third time this season, Ponds also grabbed seven boards and dished out four assists. The Brooklyn native made eight of his 11 tries from the free throw line, including four in the game’s final 23 seconds to keep the Hawks at bay.
Simon nearly made history, falling just one assist shy of the Red Storm’s first triple-double since Ron Artest accomplished the feat on Jan. 9, 1999, against Seton Hall. The Temecula, Calif., native tallied 11 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, the last of which matched a career high.
Falling just one point shy of his season high, Bashir Ahmed netted 16 on 6-of-12 shooting and corralled five rebounds. The senior also tied a career-high with three steals.
Tariq Owens, the Big East’s leading shot blocker, batted away five Saint Joe’s attempts in addition to scoring seven points and grabbing seven rebounds. Owens is now averaging 4.3 blocks per game over his last six outings and has recorded no less than two rejections in a game this season.
Saint Joe’s entered the contest surrendering just 8.7 turnovers per game, the second best average in the nation. The Johnnies, who came to Connecticut ranked ninth in turnovers forced per game (19.4), squeezed a season-high 19 turnovers from the Hawks.
The Red Storm defense locked down when it mattered most, holding the Hawks to just a 1-of-8 effort in the contest’s final four minutes before a last-second layup.
The Hawks found it hard to miss in the opening minutes of the contest, sinking nine of their first 16 field goal attempts, including three of their five tries from beyond the arc, to take a 22-16 edge with just over eight minutes gone in the game.
With Saint Joe’s leading 37-32 following a Nick Robinson three-ball with 4:26 to play in the half, the Red Storm unleashed a 12-4 run to end the stanza, climbing ahead by three, 44-41, at the intermission. The Johnnies held the Hawks off the board for 3:57 and made five-straight field goal attempts at one point during that stretch. 44 points also marked the Red Storm’s best first-half total of the season.
After St. John’s scored the first two points of the second half on an Owens baseline jumper, Saint Joe’s netted the contest’s next eight, moving ahead by three, 49-46. The Hawks continued their scoring streak from there, climbing ahead by as many as eight, 56-48, with 14:51 to go.
The Johnnies responded with six in a row to pull within two, 56-54, just over two minutes later. The Red Storm continued to chip away over the next few minutes, pulling even with the Hawks, 61-61, on a Simon jumper through contact with 8:18 to play.
The two teams battled over the next several possessions before Shavar Newkirk tied it at 68 with five minutes to go. As they’ve done all season, the Johnnies hunkered down on defense, holding the Hawks without a point for the next 3:39 and extending its lead to as many as five, 73-68, with two minutes to play.
The Hawks would pull within two, 73-71, on a Newkirk jumper with 24 seconds to play, but Ponds made four free throws down the stretch to keep the Hawks at bay.