(Shamorie Ponds – @StJohnsBball)
The St. John’s Red Storm got their second big upset victory in a row, as they knocked off Villanova, 79-75, on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Villanova entered this game as the number-one ranked team in the country, and this was just their second loss of the season, and their record is now 22-2 overall and 9-2 in Big East play.
This was St. John’s first win in Big East play after they started conference play with 11 straight losses.
More importantly, this was another statement win for St. John’s after they defeated Duke, then fourth in the nation, on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of beating No. 4/5 Duke and No. 1/1 Villanova in a five-day span, “If you’ve seen our [previous BIG EAST] games, they are very similar to tonight’s. Once again at the end, we made some plays that needed to be made. All of the games we lost were very similar. Some things just didn’t go our way. More importantly, Shamorie [Ponds] and his teammates were mentally strong, always kept coming back, [were] accountable, watching the film, and learning from it. When we do that, good things will happen. When [losing] happens 11 times in a row, it’s hard. But we looked at it transparently and saw what’s going on, we felt good about it, we stayed together, and gave good things a chance to happen.”
These wins definitely give St. John’s hope that if they can keep this streak going, they could make some noise at the Big East Tournament, and make a postseason tournament.
Redshirt junior forward Marvin Clark II said of the feeling after beating Duke and Villanova, “Ecstatic, just ecstatic, but at the same time, we’ve known who we are the whole season. We know that we can play with anyone in the country. It’s definitely ecstatic and a relief that finally some things are bouncing our way, and we are getting hot at the right time.”
Mullin said of what it means to the program to win, “Again, you may think I’m crazy, but every single game I think we’re going to win. Since I was 10 years old, that’s how I approach each and every game. I never walk into a game thinking that we have no chance. Then the game unfolds and you deal with it how it unfolds. These are huge wins, but more importantly for the players. I think it’s a testament to their perseverance, unselfishness with each other, their confidence, and I’m just happy for them. I’m happy for the players.”
St. John’s took Villanova to the wire in their first meeting of the season at The Garden on January 13, as they lost 78-71. The fact they hung in that night and knocked off Duke, made it seem possible they could go down to Philadelphia and score the upset.
“To me, it’s a rivalry and always will be,” Mullin said of the Villanova/St. John’s rivalry, which dates back to the 1980s, with Lou Carnesecca coaching St. John’s and Rollie Massimino at the helm of Villanova. “There’s a tremendous amount of respect, and I’m very good friends with a lot of ex-players [from Villanova], Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, and John Pinone are guys that I’ve talked to over these years, so there’s much respect. … I missed a free throw [against Villanova] and Pinone threw a half-court shot in. I’ve told these guys stories because I remember all the games we lost. The wins, I don’t really remember. You also learn from [the losses]. I’m proud of the players because they keep coming back, working, and staying positive through basketball adversity. We have a nice chunk of the season left, and I think that we can do some damage. Their perseverance the last two games has paid off.”
St. John’s was led by Shamorie Ponds, who had another big night with 26 points on 8-20 from the field, 2-5 on threes, five assists, five rebounds, and two steals. Ponds was named Big East Player of the Week, the Citizen Naismith National Player of the Week, and Metropolitan Basketball Writers (MBWA) Player of the week for his performances in the Xavier (31 points) and Duke (33 games) games last week.
Ponds said of what it feels like to beat No. 1/1 Villanova on the road, “It’s big. It gave us all the little confidence that we need to finish the regular season. Now, we can’t go backwards. We have to keep going up and up.”
On defeating two top-5 teams in back-to-back games, Ponds said, “It’s big for the University, and it’s also big for us. I feel like it will give us the little spark that we need going into the rest of the season. Two-huge wins. We’ve never lost the confidence, but no one wants to go through the losing. I feel like we stayed together, but we weren’t getting the outcomes that we wanted. If we stayed together, it would eventually fall through.”
Ponds said of the team staying together, “We all felt like a team. I don’t think anyone here is ‘Me, me, me,’ it’s a ‘We thing’ here. It’s either us, or no one.”
Justin Simon had 16 points (6-14 FG, 1-3 on threes) and 10 rebounds to give him a double-double, along with seven assists and two steals. Marvin Clark II had 15 points on 5-8 shooting, 2-4 on threes, six rebounds, and an assist. Bashir Ahmed had 10 points (4-7 FG) and a rebound.
Tariq Owens just missed notching a double-double, as he had nine points and nine assists, and notched two blocks.
St. John’s and Villanova played pretty much even for the first half, but a late surge for the Red Storm gave them a 39-34 lead at halftime.
Villanova opened the second half with a 7-2 run in the first couple minutes to tie it at 41. St. John’s responded with a 6-0 run, as Ahmed made a couple of layups, and Clark got one of his own to make it 47-41 at the 14:42 mark.
Ponds followed with a three a minute later to make it 50-43 St. John’s, and he got a three-point play at the 5:37 mark to make it 63-54.
The Red Storm kept it going, and a Ponds jumper made it a nine-point lead again, 67-58, with 2:42 left.
Villanova would not go away that easily, and they went on an 8-0 run, with Jalen Brunson supplying all the points, to make it 67-66 with 1:26 remaining. Brunson led Villanova with 28 points.
Ponds said of the mentality of the huddle when Villanova was making its run, “We’ve been down that road before, and we were trying to not make the same mistakes. Coach [Mullin] was telling us to stay composed and to keep fighting.”
Clark responded with a three-point play to restore order and make it 70-66 with 1:19 left, and then Tariq Owens made a free throw with 57 seconds on the clock, one of nine St. John’s would get in the final minute. Ponds’ pair of free throws with three seconds remaining to make it 79-75 sealed the win.
Mullin said of his team making the “winning plays” in the final moments of the past two games, “I think sometimes it’s a free throw that puts you up four instead of three. … But I think it’s more about our defense. Our defense has been phenomenal, but we also have made stops and got rebounds. Tonight, we won the rebounding battle by one, 35-34. … I think our rebounding his picked up to match our defensive intensity, and I think we’ve been a little more efficient offensively. Maybe a little better shot selection too, but you have to make the shots. I thought the last game [against Duke], we made two impossible shots, both Shamorie’s [Ponds] and Bashir’s [Ahmed]. Sometimes that’s the difference. A lot of times that’s the difference.”
Ponds said of the mentality heading into the two wins over No. 4/5 Duke and No. 1/1 Villanova, “Even through our losses, we always stick together. We go into every game knowing that we can win, and that’s just our mindset. The 11 games we’ve lost, a lot of them have been really close, so limiting that margin of error gives up a good shot of competing with anyone in the country.”
On matching up well with Villanova, Ponds said, “We just stick to coach’s game plan. He has a great game plan. We just stuck with it all night and got the W.”
Clark said of making “winning plays” down the stretch, “It’s just a learning process. It’s been a redundant learning process, but I think the guys want to salvage something out of this season and we know that we are not out of it yet. We are still in the hunt. For me, I knew that I owed [our team] a game. When we played [Villanova] at home, I played horrible, didn’t really get to play much against Duke, so I wanted to come in, play hard, and do what I was supposed to do for this team.”
St. John’s will be back in action at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday at noon against Marquette, who got a big win of their own on Wednesday night at Seton Hall.