Shamorie Ponds exhorts crowd during St. John's runaway win over Nebraska. The sophomore guard led Red Storm and all scorers with 22 points in Thursday's 79-56 victory. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/St. John's University Athletics)
JAMAICA, NY -- I finally see the dawn arriving
I see beyond the road I'm driving
- Boston, "Don't Look Back"
In each of the first two games St. John's has played this season, Chris Mullin has stressed that a complete game was not an item that his Red Storm team checked off their list of objectives. Yes, New Orleans and Central Connecticut provided expected moments of success, but after 40 minutes Friday and another 40 on Tuesday, the all-time leading scorer on the corner of Union and Utopia once again made it a point to emphasize progress with Nebraska; national champions in football multiple times over and despite a lack of championships in comparison to their gridiron brethren, still a formidable threat given their physical style and standing in the Big Ten Conference.
What followed was a demolition that gave St. John's fans a reason to truly believe their team was talented enough to at least make things interesting in March, where fans of the Cornhuskers may have taken a moment or two in Thursday's 79-56 obliteration to pine for Tom Osborne to try his luck on the hardwood.
"This was our biggest test to date in this early season," Mullin conceded on a night where Shamorie Ponds paced the scoring leaders again with his 22 points as the Red Storm (3-0) simply overpowered their visitors from Lincoln on both ends of the floor. "I think the most important thing is that tonight was really the first time that I saw our defensive alertness, quickness and athleticism really showed."
The vaunted transition game was not as much of a factor as it was Tuesday night against Central Connecticut, but against Nebraska, it truly did not have to be. St. John's was able to pound their way to a commanding 44-16 margin in the paint against the Huskers (2-1) while simultaneously rendering a once-dynamic offense into an anemic 28 percent effort from the floor in a game where head coach Tim Miles had no answer for the 50 rebounds and 10 blocked shots that complemented the authoritative takedown.
"I think you'll see more high-level stuff offensively because we share the ball so well," Mullin advised. "We have such a nice blend of talent. Each guy has strengths that can cover up another player's weakness."
To expound on that last quote, if we may: Ponds' production was bolstered by seven rebounds and five assists, making up for Marcus LoVett missing each of his first five shots before recovering to finish 6-of-14 from the floor with 14 points overall. Justin Simon's second consecutive double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, one marker more in each category than in Tuesday's win) masked just seven points and five boards from Marvin Clark II. Even Bashir Ahmed (15 points in arguably his most efficient game of the young season) and Tariq Owens, the latter of whom posted six points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots, covered up for Clark committing four of the nine total turnovers recorded by a crisp Red Storm team.
"I thought our activity on defense was what made the difference," Mullin proudly stated before praising Owens' impact off the bench.
"He's the anchor of our defense," he said of the former Tennessee transfer. "His blocks, they're great blocks, but they're because he's just in the right place. He's not drifting away, he's always in the help position and communicating. He does it all. To me, he makes everything go. He's so freakishly athletic, he can do anything."
A respite, at least on paper, appears in the form of Rockville Centre-based Molloy College, a Division II foe who makes the short jaunt up the Cross Island and across the Grand Central for a 6:30 tipoff Monday night. The contest with the Lions may be a break from the step up in class from Thursday, but it represents an added chance to build on the mystique of Carnesecca Arena that has helped contribute to the fast start by New York's team.
"We have to appreciate our fans," said LoVett. "They gave so much energy out there. We wanted to come out with a lot of energy, and I feel like we started and finished the game like that. To see the whole atmosphere, it felt beautiful to be in that environment, and we plan on having more games like that."