Thursday, March 1, 2018

Without Ponds, St. John's steps up to down Butler in double OT

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

JAMAICA, NY -- Without the services of Shamorie Ponds, who was held out due to an abdominal strain, St. John's stepped up to defeat Butler in double overtime, 75-68, Wednesday night, on senior night at Carnesecca Arena.

The trio of Justin Simon, Bashir Ahmed, and Marvin Clark II combined for 66 of the Red Storm's 75 points to lead them to their fifth win in seven games and improve their overall record to 15-15 and Big East record to 4-13. They are now tied with DePaul for ninth in the conference as they head to Providence for the regular season finale Saturday afternoon. Simon led the way with 24 points on 9-of-16  shooting from the field, with 10 rebounds to give him a double-double. He also had five assists and four steals, but committed six turnovers. Ahmed, honored in a pregame ceremony alongside fellow senior Amar Alibegovic, had 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-6 on three-pointers, with six rebounds and two steals. He also had six turnovers. Clark had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including a three-pointer, with four rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and a steal.

St. John's head coach Chris Mullin said of Simon, “When you are shorthanded, you go into the game trying to figure out if he can play 40 minutes. Call some timeouts and get some natural rest as the game goes on, but for him to play 50 minutes and to be as efficient as he was. He made some big shots, obviously, but that pass back to Marvin was a big-time play. He went to his pivots, made a nice read, and Marvin trailed to hit that nice three. When he’s going like that, he’s pretty dynamic. He’s fun to watch, and he stepped up when we need him the most. I thought there was a part of the game where he got a little fatigued, which is understandable, but towards the end of the overtimes he was really, really aggressive and made some big plays. Like a lot of our wins, he’s usually in the middle of it all doing good things.”

St. John's led 28-25 at halftime, and scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 37-25 lead on a Tariq Owens layup at the 15:56 mark. Butler responded with a 9-0 run of the their own capped by a Nate Fowler layup that made it 37-34 St. John's with 13:33 remaining in regulation. The Bulldogs eventually took the lead on a Kamar Baldwin three-pointer that gave them a 48-46 lead with 7:12 left.

With 1:02 to play, Fowler drained a three to give Butler a five-point edge. After Simon made a layup with 46 seconds left, Kelan Martin got one of his own to give Butler their five-point lead back, 58-53, with just 17 seconds remaining. Out of the ensuing timeout, Clark made a quick three to make it 58-56 Butler with 12 seconds left. After a turnover on the inbounds by Butler with 10 seconds left, St. John's had a real chance to pull off the improbable comeback. Simon made a layup with four seconds left to tie it at 58 with four seconds left. Baldwin missed a three to win it as time expired and the game went to overtime.

In overtime, St. John's kept the momentum going and opened it with a 6-0 run capped by a Clark jumper with 2:21 on the clock, giving the Red Storm a 64-58 lead. Incredibly, Butler came right back, as Baldwin had a personal 6-0 run, with a three-pointer followed by getting fouled on a three-point attempt with 48 seconds left and making all three free throws to tie it at 64. That was it for the first overtime, and a Sean McDermott layup gave Butler a 68-66 edge with 2:49 left in the second extra session. St. John's would then close the game on a 9-0 run, beginning with a Clark layup, followed by a layup and three free throws from Simon that made the score 73-68 with 23 seconds left. Clark sealed the final margin with a pair of his own at the foul line nine seconds later.

St. John's shot 47.3 percent, or 26-for-55, from the field, while holding Butler to just 35.1 percent, or 26-of-74 shooting. It feels like you could say it a lot after games during this 5-2 February stretch, but this could have been their best defensive effort of the season.

Butler was led by Paul Jorgensen and Kelan Martin, who each had 17 points, with Jorgensen shooting 7-14 overall and 3-6 on threes, with Martin was just 7-23 from the field and 2-9 behind the arc. Baldwin finished with 11 points, with six of those coming in the first overtime, on 3-14 from the field and 2-9 on threes, with six rebounds and two assists, while also committing seven turnovers.

Mullin said of the win, “Shoot, hadn’t played in how long, but he played 43 minutes and played great defense. Bashir played one of his better games, so I was happy for those guys. It was their last game at home being seniors, and I thought the other guys played for them. It was nice to see. Just kind of hung in there, we got down, and like you said, there were a lot of swings where we kind of just made the next play. We had that next-play mentality. I think we were down five with 17 seconds left, and Marvin hit a three. We made some plays obviously. We’ve played in a lot of games like this and haven’t gotten that shot to go or made those stops at the end of the game. Again, another one of those times where Amar fouled a three-point shooter. We’ve done that before and it’s crushed us, but we went onto the next play and made something happen. Told them I was obviously proud of them. I’m so happy for them. With Shamorie not playing, we all work hard in practice, even those guys who don’t play, they are always in shape, and are dedicated guys. Amar is one of the best teammates I’ve been around, and I’ve had a lot of good teammates. His attitude, his work ethic, and dedication to the team are top-notch.”

Mullin said of winning this one with guys stepping up in the absence of Ponds, “I thought it was big for them. I know they can do it, and I tell them all the time. In practice we like to put them in different positions. They have all played in those spots before. We do it in practice that way just in case things like this happen. I like my guys to be versatile anyway. For them to do it against a really good Butler team in double overtime, that’s where you gain your confidence and all the talk, becomes reality. I’ve always said that, you can work hard in practice, feel good, your coach can love you, and all that, but doing it in the game, especially at the end of the game, are steps you have to take as a player. People can say otherwise, but until you do it yourself, there’s always a little doubt. For that group there, I think that was really important. That was one of the reasons why I was really happy and proud of them.”

Simon said of the final moments of regulation when he got that game-tying layup and the overtimes, "My coaches and teammates told me to stay aggressive, keep getting to the basket, and draw attention on you. With that last play, Coach told me, stay aggressive, get to the rim, no shot blocks, and just finish. In double overtime it was whatever to win for these guys. Whatever it took, I was a little winded out there, but whatever it took to get a W.”

Simon said of playing all 50 minutes, “Just like I said, my coaches kept me into it. They were on me, they challenged me during one of the timeouts, and I came out and stepped up. My teammates did a wonderful job keeping me motivated and keeping me in it. I had all those turnovers and was a little sloppy, but they kept me in it.”

Simon said of playing without Ponds, “It is hard playing without, in my opinion, one of the best guards in the country. He does a lot for us, he initiates the offense and he scores with the best of them, so it’s tough playing without a guard like that. We were real versatile and have a lot of depth. On any given night when we play together and play defense, anything can happen.”

Ahmed said of winning his final regular season game at Carnesecca Arena, “This feeling is amazing; I am just very happy and very excited to play in front of our family and our St. John’s crowd. I am just real honored to be here. It was a wonderful two years and we went out with a bang.”

Ahned said of playing without Ponds, “I just wanted to come out and be more aggressive. With Shamorie being out, he averaged the most points on this team and has done a great job for us this year, so with him being out I just knew I had to step up today.”

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