Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ponds breaks Carnesecca scoring record as St. John's wins third straight

Shamorie Ponds is congratulated by teammates on career-high 44-point effort as St. John's defeated Marquette for third straight win following 11 losses to open Big East season. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/St. John's University Athletics)

JAMAICA, NY -- Don't the best of them bleed it out?
While all the rest of them peter out?
Truth or consequence -- say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around
- Foo Fighters, "My Hero"

Through his first year-and-a-half on the corner of Union and Utopia, Shamorie Ponds has earned more than his share of adulation, enveloped in the arms of many a St. John's supporter as he continues to author a hometown success story, Brooklyn boy done good under the backdrop of the terrain he calls his own.

And that was before the last four games in which No. 2 in the programs, but No. 1 in the hearts of Red Storm fans across the city -- heck, across the country -- took his high-octane game to yet another gear, beginning with 31 points in a losing effort against Xavier one week ago this past Tuesday.

A 33-point masterpiece in Saturday's headline-grabbing upset of Duke soon followed, with a more subtle 26 markers entering his ledger in Wednesday's takedown of top-ranked Villanova. But hardly anyone could have expected those three games to be mere appetizers to his latest tour de force.

Ponds' latest magnum opus, following in an ever-growing line of performances that would make Kemba Walker blush during his championship run through March and April seven years ago, was one that broke records on top of decibel levels at Carnesecca Arena and perhaps the NCAA Tournament hopes of visiting Marquette, a 44-point explosion as St. John's continued to put their 0-11 beginning to Big East play behind them in an 86-78 victory over the Golden Eagles, their third triumph in the span of eleven days to further rejuvenate a program in dire need of a pick-me-up.

"It felt good to know they were back with us," Ponds said of the capacity crowd on hand to watch the Red Storm (13-13, 2-11 Big East) get back to .500 behind a 60 percent shooting day, with he himself serving as a model of efficiency in his 16-for-23 mark from the floor. "We feed off their energy, so we just fed off them today and got a W."

But has he ever experienced a stretch the likes of the current extended high he is in the midst of?

"Not that I can remember," he gushed, his ear-to-ear grin wide enough to light the entire St. John's campus.

It was that kind of an afternoon in Queens, one in which Ponds and Andrew Rowsey (34 points in the losing effort) did their best impression of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson during their unforgettable duel in the sun at Turnberry in the 1977 British Open throughout the day. Marquette (14-11, 5-8 Big East) had the early advantage when Rowsey scored 19 of the Golden Eagles' first 26 points and even managed to complete his trademark pump-fake while drawing Bashir Ahmed into the air on a three-point attempt (a move commonly referred to by Marquette fans as #TheThing), the 21st time he was able to pull that off.

But when Rowsey and his team went cold, St. John's only got hotter. The Red Storm defense, at times a lightning rod but a consistently potent unit, held the Golden Eagles to just two field goals over the final 9:31 of the first half, positioning themselves in the driver's seat for the final 20 minutes, which essentially served as Ponds central as the sophomore missed just three shots down the stretch to the accompaniment of "M-V-P" chants in lockstep from all 5,602 in attendance.

"It's a blessing," Ponds said when he was informed that his 44 points were good enough to break the single-game Carnesecca scoring record, one that the late Malik Sealy held for nearly three decades with 43. "For my name to be up there, it's a blessing, it's a dream come true. It's indescribable, just unbelievable out there."

St. John's now hopes to keep the momentum alive when they hit the road again next week, taking on DePaul Wednesday night in a matchup that could potentially move the Red Storm out of the cellar in the Big East standings and closer to avoiding the play-in games in next month's Big East tournament. Until then, though, we leave you with some takeaways from the affairs on campus today, and hopefully setting the tone for an eventful stretch run:

1) Night and day.
Such is life for St. John's, which two weeks ago was still searching for a way out of their season-long morass, only to find a receiving party outside their practice facility after midnight following their win over Villanova. The good vibes continued on Saturday.

"It's about time," Justin Simon said of the reversal of fortune. "Coach said all we needed was one, and this was going to string along to the other games. We've lost every way we could, and we just learned from our mistakes. It was an amazing atmosphere tonight."

"Everybody loves winners," said Chris Mullin. "This is what happens when you win, but more importantly, I think there's an appreciation for what these kids have gone through, not hanging their heads, not giving up. There's as much appreciation for that as there is for the wins. The six weeks before that felt like six years."

2) Formula 44.
Shamorie Ponds' latest performance on the national stage was just as captivating for those on the court as it was for fans of the sophomore guard, who went for 30 or more for the third time in his last four games, and fifth in Big East Conference play.

"Amazing," Simon said when asked to describe Ponds' recent performance. "He's been playing amazing basketball these past couple games. It's hard to describe. I'm just like you guys. I get caught up watching instead of going for an offensive rebound and getting back on defense. I'm a fan, too. I love giving him the ball and seeing him go to work."

"Ponds is sensational," Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski conceded. "And I grew up playing against a kid from New York City named Stephon Marbury. As I was watching him (Ponds) tonight -- these young guys don't appreciate how good Marbury was, but he was pretty darn good -- Ponds is a pro. We've played some great guards this year, but that son of a gun is a pro. The way he commands the game, his ability to score, his presence on the floor, he was sensational and we had no answers for him. We tried a few different things and nothing seemed to work, and that's a credit to him. He's a big-time player."

3) What does Marquette need to do to stop the bleeding?
At 14-11, and only 5-8 in the Big East, the Golden Eagles have slipped to the wrong side of the bubble at an inopportune time, and in Wojciechowski's mind, much of the recent struggles have to do with not finding adequate support for the trio of Rowsey, Markus Howard, and Sam Hauser.

"We can certainly get more from the guys coming off the bench," he admitted. "I believe in them, I think they're good players. But in order for us to beat the teams in our conference, we have to have better balance. We put so much pressure on Andrew, Markus and Sam, and what ends up happening is if they don't sense the guys who are supporting them -- our role players -- are playing with the confidence and intensity, then they try to take it upon themselves to do things that; over the long haul, aren't going to produce real positive results, and that's where you see some of that inefficiency offensively."

"We can make better decisions, but we also need to get better balance to where there isn't as much pressure on those guys to try and put a cape on and win a game for us. Those guys feel a lot of pressure to produce at an extraordinary level, but we need to help them more to alleviate some of the pressure they feel, because that pressure ends up in them making decisions that they wouldn't normally otherwise make."

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