St. John’s won the Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center with a thrilling overtime victory over VCU, 87-86.
Shamorie Ponds led the way for St. John’s once again, as he poured in 35 points to take home tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Combined with the 32 points he had against California on Monday night, his 67 points were a tournament record.
Ponds shot 11-25 from the field, including 1-6 from behind the arc, and was 12-15 on free throws. He had 16 points in the second half, the same total he had on Monday night, and nine in overtime.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of Ponds’ performance these two nights, “He’s put on a show. He played at one of the highest levels I’ve seen in a 24-hour span. It wasn’t only his shot making. Tonight he had seven steals, seven assists, and has been clutch, hitting two-straight game-winners. I haven’t seen a guard play like that in 24 hours.”
Sophomore forward LJ Figueroa said of Ponds, “It was incredible just to watch him. Shamorie is the best player I’ve ever played with. It was unreal just to be a part of it.”
With St. John’s trailing by one and 10 seconds left in overtime, Ponds took the inbounds pass and went the length of the floor, driving to the left past three VCU defenders to hit a running jumper and give them an 87-86 lead.
VCU elected not to take a timeout, and Marcus Evans got off a good look from just inside the halfcourt line, but it fell short, giving St. John’s their first early-season tournament win since the Great Alaska Shootout in 2011.
Ponds said of his game-winning shot, “In high school, my team and I lost the state championship game on a buzzer-beater. Coming down to the last shot, I replayed that in my head, how we lost in the Barclays and I didn’t want to go out like that. I’m just happy we’re champs.”
Mullin said of Ponds’ game-winning shot. “He makes those shots. Shamorie has a gift of scoring. He’s got incredible touch. He practices those shots. He has an incredible feel and instinct for the game. He made a few incredibly tough shots; shots that only he could make.”
Mullin said of St. John’s then getting the stop on the last defensive possession, “We never anticipate anything. Transition defense is something we do every day in practice. When you get excited after making a shot like that, transition defense is the one thing you need in order to guard against a team pushing down the court like that. We did a really good job of doing that. Shamorie guarded the ball well and we had the boxes stacked up.”
St. John’s came from behind against California on Monday night and they came back from an eight-point deficit in the second half to outlast VCU.
Mullin said of his team’s performance the last two games, “We played two really good teams that played well. They were making shots off the dribble, late in the shot clock, so we have to give our opponents a lot of credit. To our credit, we were in some tough situations the last two nights. When Shamorie picked up that technical foul, we could’ve went down six. We fought back and we didn’t hang our heads. The guys thought that they could win this game the entire way.”
Mullin said of winning this tournament in his hometown, “I grew up down the block on Flatbush Avenue. So to me, the fact that this building is here is pretty amazing. When this whole thing came together, I honestly thought it was a miracle. I remember when people who never have thought that there would be a beautiful arena and a professional team in Brooklyn. They would’ve thought you were crazy. It’s beautiful. My memories of Brooklyn are all good and winning this tournament feels amazing.”
In addition to Ponds’ heroics, Figueora continued his strong start to the season, as he scored 15 points on 6-10 from the field, including 2-4 from behind the arc, with 9 rebounds and 2 assists.
Marvin Clark had 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Mikey Dixon had 10 points on a perfect 4-4 from the field (2-2 on three-pointers) and 2 rebounds off the bench.
VCU was led by Isaac Vann, who had 30 points on 8-14 from the field, 4-7 on three-pointers, a perfect 10-10 on free throws, with 11 rebounds and 5 assists.
VCU was able to overcome 13 turnovers to take a 36-31 lead into halftime, and they opened up a 47-39 lead in the opening minutes of the second half on a three-point play by Marcus Evans.
St. John’s responded with a 7-1 run capped by a Ponds layup, and then he drained a three to pull them within a point, 52-51, with 12:48 left.
It went back and forth from there, and VCU took a three-point lead, 72-69 with 1:58 left on a De’Riante Jenkins jumper.
Ponds did what one would expect him to at this point, as he got a layup with 1:05 left, followed by a steal with 32 seconds left leading to another layup to give St. John’s a 73-72 lead.
With the shot clock turned off, VCU’s Evans took it to the hoop with five seconds left and was fouled by Ponds. After Evans drained one of two at the free throw line, the game was tied at 73 with 5.4 seconds left for St. John’s to get the winning shot.
St. John’s came up with one of the most imaginative, out of the box plays in that situation. Justin Simon threw the inbounds pass the length of the floor to Figueroa, who fired it back to Clark at the three-point line, and he just missed wide right. If Clark hit the three to win it, that would have been the play of the night.
In the overtime, St. John’s overcame a three-point deficit, led by the nine points from Ponds, five of which came at the free throw line, and including the game-winning runner with four seconds left.
Ponds said of the significance of winning this tournament, “It means a lot. It’s a step we haven’t taken before. Being 5-0 and winning the tournament, it’s great for us but we can’t stop here.”
On his team’s performance, Ponds gave a big-picture answer, as he said they “need to go back to the drawing boards and work on defending, boxing out, and getting rebounds.”
St. John’s will be back in action at Carnesecca Arena next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Maryland Eastern Shore.
THIRD PLACE GAME: Temple beat California, 76-59, to win the consolation game of the Legends Classic.