Thursday, March 8, 2018

Despite 28-point loss to Xavier, St. John's still gives fans reason to believe going into next season

Shamorie Ponds (left) and Marvin Clark II (right) provided a glimpse of bright future for St. John's throughout season, even in final curtain loss to Xavier in Big East Tournament. (Photo by Newsday)

NEW YORK -- You could spend all your time making money
You can spend all your love making time
If it all fell to pieces tomorrow, would you still be mine?
- The Eagles, "Take It To The Limit"

Ask that question to St. John's fans from the viewpoint of a basketball team whose roller-coaster season ended Thursday afternoon with a loss to Xavier in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, and the answer will most likely remain a resounding yes.

Sure, the Red Storm looked gassed in an 88-60 loss to top seed -- and likely No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed -- Xavier at Madison Square Garden as their reward for defeating Georgetown Wednesday night was what essentially amounted to a 12-hour turnaround between leaving the arena and returning the morning after to face a Musketeers team against whom they lost by a grand total of 11 points in their two regular-season encounters back in January. Still, the lessons were learned.

"That's what you get for coming in ninth," head coach Chris Mullin conceded when asked of having to face Xavier with a short amount of preparation time. "They're a tough team to play against under any conditions, they''re just a really good team through and through."

"The biggest thing I take from it, (is to) try to finish in the top five, try to be a top-five seed so you get a better break," Marvin Clark echoed, serving once again as an emotional leader, showing wisdom far beyond his redshirt junior age. "It's a good league, great league. We've known that throughout the year."

While Shamorie Ponds commanded the majority of the headlines once the Red Storm surged through February before ending their season with a 16-17 record -- the best result on Mullin's ledger through three seasons of a ground-up rebuild -- Clark was the steady hand steering the ship through murky waters, an experienced veteran with the prior inner knowledge of championship culture to fall back on from his time under Tom Izzo at Michigan State before transferring onto the corner of Union and Utopia last season. And just as he has all year, Clark gave an insightful and commendable answer when prompted to share what he and his teammates gleaned from a volatile campaign that mere mortals may have had a hard time navigating.

"We have reasons within our team -- within our program -- that were kind of distractions," he began. "But the biggest thing -- just what Coach has instilled in us -- was how we bounced back. And I think having that 11-game stretch of losing, I think most people would have cowered, tucked their tail and ran. I'm proud of our team for fighting back and making -- salvaging -- something out of the season."

That fighting spirit will be a building block to a pivotal fourth year of Mullin's regime, firmly in the pocket of a team whose lone key loss will be Bashir Ahmed off next year's roster. Incoming transfers Sedee Keita and Mikey Dixon, the latter of whom is a high-scoring combo guard in a similar vein to Ponds and the former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the year, will see a significant role from the onset, while freshman Bryan Trimble becomes a sophomore and freshmen Josh Roberts and Greg Williams learn the ropes.

It is widely expected that Ponds will test the NBA Draft waters and go through the valuable process of getting feedback from professional scouts and general managers before likely returning to Queens for his junior season. Clark and Tariq Owens will be seniors, Simon a junior. All in all, the future is bright and the end to this season is an indicator of that.

"A lot of times, we had some close games that didn't go our way," said Mullin. "But I thought we fought through that and to finish up the way we did, I thought was impressive after having that tough stretch in January."

"But to me, the most important is going to be another good workout in the summer. We had a great offseason, and I think that's what propelled us to the good start. These guys will lead that and we'll get a good summer. We should improve."

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