(Chris Mullin – Photo by Jason Schott)
The St. John’s Red Storm will be facing their toughest test of the season Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden when they take on defending national champion Villanova.
St. John’s is coming off an overtime win against Butler on Tuesday night, and they are in a tie for third place in the Big East with Seton Hall, as both have 6-6 conference records.
Villanova is in first place in the Big East with a conference record of 11-1.
Villanova won the team’s first meeting on January 8, as they came back from a nine-point deficit to win 76-71.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin and players Mustapha Heron and Marvin Clark II addressed the media after practice on Friday afternoon. Here is what they had to say ahead of this big game:
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin
On preparation for Villanova: “We have to play possession-by-possession. This game is going to have a different flow to it. The game is going to have its own personality, so being able to adapt to that is going to be important. We have to stick to our basic principles defensively and defend the three-point shot because 52 percent of their shots come from three. We have to defend that and just run them off the line.”
On Freshman Forward Josh Roberts: “He has been doing a good job in practice. We need some physicality and some energy and I think he has a lot of body and has really done a good job.”
On the takeaways from last meeting with Villanova: “We have gotten a lot better in a lot of areas. … Each game calls for something specific and we have to be good at whatever that is. It is nice to scout a team and feel good about their personnel. As the game unfolds we have to be able to play through that, whatever that might be.”
On what the team has to do to win: “I think our guys know who they are. During certain games we have been two different teams and I think they know that. They know the difference. We are trying to bring that energetic resilient group on Sunday.”
On the team’s consistency: “Consistency usually comes with time. I am more consistent at 55 than I was at 21. It is about trial and error, failing but not giving up. I think our guys know what they need to do. I feel good about their preparation.”
St. John’s Guard Mustapha Heron
On the ups and downs over the season: “I think we have matured over the season. We have definitely taken the ups and downs. Learning everything from each up and from each down. We have matured tremendously.”
On capturing a Big East win at Madison Square Garden: “I think we need to give that to [the fans]. The fans deserve it, the school deserves it, we have been working hard and I want to say that we deserve it. I think it’s just about going out and playing hard on Sunday and coming back with a win.”
On Villanova: “They beat us at their place, so we want to defend our home turf. We have to go out and have fun and just play.”
On preparing for Villanova: “Just being battle tested throughout the season, it definitely helps playing against other good teams in the BIG EAST. Learning and taking everything that we learned from [those games] and bringing it to this game.”
St. John’s Forward Marvin Clark:
On his new haircut: “I just wanted to try it. I have been growing my hair out since I was a little kid. I just wanted to do it. … I felt like it was time to get back to business. Six games left, I got to do something with it.”
On Villanova: “Obviously, you have to respect [Villanova]. They are winners, Coach [Jay] Wright has coached the program phenomenally, and you can’t help but respect them.”
On what they saw from the last five minutes of the first meeting with Villanova: “We have looked at both sides of the ball. We looked at the types of shots we gave them. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. We gave up a few big possessions, some momentum breakers. We gave them a free-throw box out and we gave them two offensive rebounds. That is something that is demoralizing, if we aren’t rebounding. It kills your team’s energy. Offensively we were not taking great shots. We were taking early shot clock shots, shots that we were making early on in the game. We just have to realize that we have to kill that clock and find the best shot available.”
On the excitement for this game and to play it at Madison Square Garden: “That is why I came here. That was the ultimate goal. Come here and help bring this program back to prominence. Obviously, we are not done yet, but I can see the horizon. We are getting there. I can see the lights, we just have to finish it up. ”
On the anticipation at this point in the season: “We control our own destiny. The way our games play out, we are in control of them. It is up to us to make or break our season. That was my whole point in coming here, to bet on myself and I would take myself, a hundred times out of a hundred times.”