(St. John’s celebrating during the second half – Photo by Jason Schott)
St. John’s faced a tough test in their second game of the season on Friday night at Carnesecca Arena, as they outlasted Bowling Green, 84-80.
Just as they did in their opening night win on Tuesday night over Loyola-Maryland, St. John’s jumped out to a nice lead early, as Marvin Clark II drained a pair of free throws to make it 20-12 seven minutes in.
A Mustapha Heron jumper made it 22-15 St. John’s at the 10:33 mark of the first half, and Bowling Green responded with a 10-4 run over the next four minutes capped by a Dylan Frye three-pointer.
Justin Turner drained a three, followed by another one from Frye to give Bowling Green a 35-33 lead at the 3:52 mark, and they would take a 39-37 lead into halftime.
Frye led Bowling Green with 13 points on 5-7 shooting, including 3-4 from behind the arc, while Turner had 12 points, while also shooting 5-7 overall, and 2-2 on threes.
Clark and Heron each had 13 points and four rebounds in the first half to pace St. John’s.
In the second half, St. John’s was forced to play the early minutes without their star, Shamorie Ponds, who was battling through an injury.
Ponds said afterwards, “It was just a minor knee issue. I just tried not to think about it and went back out on the court to fight for my team.”
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of managing Ponds’ injury, “Physically, if you can’t move, you can’t play. We not trying to have guys play if they are physically unable. During halftime he was feeling a little sore and after sitting a little bit in the second half, he felt that he was good enough to give it a go. When he came back, he had a little pop and made some big baskets.”
Bowling Green built their lead up to 51-40 at the 16:24 mark on a three from Demajeo Wiggins, but St. John’s came right back with a 9-0 run over the next two minutes, as Justin Simon had a jumper and a layup, L.J. Figueroa drained a three, and Clark slammed home a dunk.
Ponds re-entered at the 10:49 mark, and he drained a three a minute later to pull St. John’s to within a point at 58-57, which was followed by a Figueroa three-point play to give them the lead.
Heron drained a couple of free throws with 5:59 left to give St. John’s a 67-61 lead, capping a 27-10 run.
St. John’s kept pouring it on, and a Heron dunk with 2:04 left that made it 80-71 St. John’s appeared to seal the deal, but it is never that easy for the Red Storm.
Bowling Green went on a 10-1 run capped by a Turner dunk with 10 seconds left.
Heron drained one of two free throws to give St. John’s an 82-80 lead with six seconds left, and they forced Wiggins to commit a turnover, and Heron was fouled again, sending him back to the line.
This time, Heron drained both free throws to make it 84-80 and give St. John’s their second win of the season in as many tries.
Heron led the way with 26 points on 8-16 shooting, 2-7 on three-pointers, and six rebounds. Ponds had 21 points on 8-15 from the field, including 3-4 from behind the arc, with three assists, two rebounds, and two steals. Clark had 15 points (5-13 FG, 3-8 threes), five rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
The biggest surprise came of the bench for St. John’s, as Figueroa had 11 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 threes), nine of which came in the second half to lead their comeback. He also had four rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 34 minutes.
Figueroa said afterward of what he brings to the team, “I come out and play with energy and a high motor every game whether I’m coming off the bench or starting. Whatever coach wants me to do to help the team win is what I’m going to do.”
Bowling Green was led by Turner, who had 24 points on 9-15 from the field, including 4-7 from behind the arc, four rebounds, and four assists. Frye had 18 points on 7-13 from the field, 4-7 on threes, along with three assists and two rebounds. Antwon Lillard had 13 points (3-6 FG, 2-5 threes), four rebounds, and two assists. Wiggins had the only double-double for either team, with 12 points (1-4 FG, 10-14 free throws) and 12 rebounds.
This game was won by St. John’s simply holding onto the ball a lot better, as they committed just eight turnovers to 20 for Bowling Green (Frye 6, Lillard 5, Wiggins 5, Turner 3).
Mullin said of what he liked and disliked about his team’s performance, “Tonight we kind of played three different ways. I think we got off to a really good start. The ball was moving and we had six assists and no turnovers. We made a few subs and then the ball started sticking a little bit. Quite frankly, we played a little selfish and it cost us. [Bowling Green] got their confidence and I thought they played a really good game. I think they’re very well coached and talented. They dictated the play during the latter part of the first half and into the first part of the second half when we were down 11 points.
“I liked the start, didn’t like the middle part, and then coming out of that timeout, Justin Simon got really aggressive and made some nice plays and we gelled back together. I thought our guys did a nice job regrouping and playing the right way together. Everyone chipped in. Shamorie [Ponds] made some big baskets after being out of the game for a while. Brian Trimble came in to the game and played big minutes. To be down ten points in the second half and be discombobulated and be able to regroup and get a win like this will serve us well in the future.”
Mullin said of his team’s effort, “I thought Marvin [Clark II] did a nice job. I thought all of our guys who contributed did a really nice job. We didn’t maintain our rhythm, but we had enough at certain times of the game. Even towards the end of the game, we built a nice lead, just didn’t make free throws. It was a little inconsistent but like I said, regrouping like that was encouraging. No one played really well all night but they had their little spurts and the added depth helps with that.”
Ponds said of the team’s second half turnaround, “We just stuck to coach’s game plan and kept playing hard. We kept working and pushing out there and the pieces started to fall together for us.”