Thursday, February 15, 2018

St. John's wins fourth straight as Ponds has another big performance

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

St. John's kept their hot streak going Wednesday night, earning their fourth straight win with a 77-76 victory over DePaul, a measure of payback for the Red Storm after losing to the Blue Demons, 91-74, on January 6 at Carnesecca Arena.

The Red Storm is now 14-13 overall and 3-11 in the Big East. They are now just a half-game back of DePaul (3-10) for ninth in the conference, two games behind Georgetown (5-9) for eighth, 2-1/2 behind Marquette (5-8) for seventh, and 3-1/2 behind Seton Hall (6-7) for sixth. If St. John's keeps this going, they can potentially finish sixth or higher, and therefore avoid having to play in the opening night of the Big East Tournament on Wednesday, March 7. Teams playing that night would have to win four straight to win the tournament.

Shamorie Ponds kept his incredible run going, as he led the way with 26 points on 10-of-18  shooting from the field, including 4-for-8 on three-pointers, with five rebounds, two steals, and an assist. The sophomore has now scored 160 points, an average of 32 per game, over the past five games. He has played 40 minutes in each of those games.

Ponds said of what he chalks his success up to, “I’m just trying to find my rhythm. The team lost 11 straight and we are just trying to get it all back together. We’ve won four straight and we are going to try and keep it going.”

The incredible run began with 31 points in a loss on January 30 against Xavier, followed by 33 in an upset win against then-No. 4 Duke on February 3, then 26 in a win over then-No. 1 Villanova on February 7, and a Carnesecca Arena record 44 points this past Saturday in a win against Marquette.

Ponds said of what changed after the Butler loss, “Each and every game I just try and go out there and do whatever Coach [Mullin] needs me to do to get the W. I just spend overtime in the gym working on my game and it’s paying off.”

On if Ponds feels like he’s in a zone, he said, “I feel like I was always capable of this, but I was never performing up to par. I was always confident in my game, so it’s nothing new to me.”

Marvin Clark II had a big night as well, as he scored 19 of his career-high 24 points in the second half. Clark shot 8-for-15 overall and 5-of-9 from three-point range for the game, and was 6-of-8 from the field and 4-for-5 on threes in the second half. Coming into the night, Clark’s 19 second-half points would have been just one off his career-high for an entire game. He also had five rebounds, a pair of steals, and an assist.

Wednesday's win marked the first time that St. John’s had two players with 20 or more in the same game this season. It's the first time it occurred since a road victory at Providence on January 25, 2017, when Marcus LoVett scored 26 while Ponds added 22. For the third-straight game, Justin Simon finished with 16 points for the Red Storm. He shot 6-of-11 overall and was 2-for-2 from behind the arc. Despite early foul trouble that limited him to just 29 minutes, Simon also managed to add three rebounds and three assists.

The Red Storm has now won four straight in February for the first time since the 2013-14 season, when the Johnnies rattled off six-straight wins to start the month. They made the NIT that season.

As a team, St. John’s shot 12-of-24 from three-point range, matching a season-high for threes made set in their season opener against New Orleans. Clark, Ponds and Simon combined to make 11 of their 19 attempts from long range on the night. The Red Storm shot 48.3 percent, or 28-58, overall, while shooting 14-29 in each half. Their defense keeps stepping up, as they held DePaul to just 43.9 percent, or 29-66, from the field; and won the turnover battle, 15-9, converting those 15 DePaul miscues into 21 points. That made up for DePaul’s 45-25 advantage on rebounds, which included a 16-2 advantage in offensive boards.

Trailing by four with just under three minutes to play, St. John’s scored 10 of the game’s next 12 points to open up a four-point lead that DePaul proved unable to overcome. The Johnnies held DePaul scoreless for 2:40 in the closing minutes of the game, allowing for the Red Storm to make its final push.

The last time St. John's faced DePaul, their duo of Marin Maric and Max Strus was too much for them. Maric had 25 and Strus 22 in the Blue Demons' January 6 win. On Wednesday, Maric was held to 15 points on 6-of-10 from the field, with nine rebounds and an assist. Strus had 14 points on 4-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-10 on threes, with eight rebounds and three assists. Eli Cain led DePaul with 6-12 shooting, including 3-6 on threes, with 11 assists to give him a double-double.

St. John's gets a week off next before hitting the road to face Marquette on Wednesday. The Red Storm returns to Madison Square Garden on Saturday, February 24, welcoming Seton Hall in a noon tipoff.

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