Wednesday, March 7, 2018

St. John's beats Georgetown to open Big East tourney

Shamorie Ponds led St. John's with 26 points as Red Storm opened Big East Tournament with win over Georgetown. (Photo by Newsday)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

For the second straight year, St. John's knocked off Georgetown on the opening night of the Big East Tournament, as they came away with an 88-77 victory Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

It will be a quick turnaround for the Red Storm, though, as they take on top seed Xavier in the quarterfinals at noon Thursday.

The ninth-seed Red Storm was led by Shamorie Ponds, whose 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting led the team. Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II each notched 16 points, with Simon adding 10 rebounds for a double-double, and also recording six assists. Tariq Owens had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Bashir Ahmed added ten points and six boards.

"We practiced -- a lot of our sets have multiple options and it's up to Justin and Shamorie to make the right reads," head coach Chris Mullin said of the Red Storm offense. "They've done a great job of that all year. Exceptional in the second half. I thought their command of the reads and the command of their teammates was exceptional and sharing the ball, being unselfish."

Trailing 48-42 at halftime, St. John's (16-16) started the second half on a 12-4 run, and added to their lead as the game went on, eventually reaching 11 points for the first time on a jumper by Clark with 2:48 remaining. Overall, the Red Storm outscored Georgetown, 46-29, over the final 20 minutes.

Mullin was asked what was different about this one than their two losses to Georgetown in the regular season, and he said, "All the games have been really close games, and ironically or not, they really shot the three-ball against us and they had nine at halftime. I thought our defense was much better in the second half."

"I thought the first half, they got too many open looks, too many walk-in threes. No resistance. I thought we were fortunate to be only down six at halftime. And I thought our defense picked up in the second half and offensively we kind of got moving. And, like I said, Justin and Shamorie really dictated the flow of the game."

St. John's held Georgetown to just 25.8 percent shooting in the second half, and Mullin said of what changed about their defense from the first half, "I think we really just got more aggressive. I thought Marvin pressed up on Derrickson more beyond the three-point line. I thought Tariq put more pressure on, and Lamar did a good job on Govan. They just were getting easy looks. And the other part of that, I thought Justin and Shamorie contained the ball better. They were getting some blow-bys which were opening up those three-point shots. They guarded the ball better, kept the guards out of the paint and made them shoot contested twos."

"At halftime I tried everything -- we played zone and full-court press and we just weren't playing defense. And they flipped the switch at halftime and did a much better job."

With one game now in the books, the scene now shifts to Thursday afternoon, where St. John's -- who suffered two close losses to Xavier in games they could have won if not for the Musketeers' late-game execution -- will attempt to slay yet another giant and keep their postseason aspirations alive.

"I just told them the biggest thing right now is to get some rest," said Mullin. "Eat a good meal. Get some rest. When you're playing a team for the third time, there's less preparation you have to do, everyone knows the personnel. We know what kind of game either team's going to play. Everyone knows each other's inside and out personnel, game plans and things like that. Xavier is one of the most physical teams, I think, in the league offensively and defensively. We'll get on that a little bit tonight and do a little quick little film in the morning and be ready to go."

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