By Laura Amato
They’re starting to plant some roots in the Garden.
The St. John’s men’s basketball team held on for an 86-80 victory over Georgetown Saturday afternoon, the team’s third consecutive win on its home court.
It was the first-ever victory over the Hoyas under head coach Chris Mullin and — even more importantly — snapped a two-game losing skid for the Red Storm.
“In general, I think these guys feed off the crowd, for sure. I think they’re comfortable playing here now,” Mullin said. “We talked about it yesterday, to be a good team the first thing you have to do is protect home court.”
As per usual, freshman phenom Shamorie Ponds led the charge for the Red Storm.
The former Jefferson star racked up 24 points on just 15 attempts as he became the third freshman in program history to notch 500 points in his first college season.
“My teammates believe in me,” said Ponds, who is just 42 points shy of D’Angelo Harrison’s freshman scoring record. “I just got the ball and didn’t really think too much. When the team believes in you, they want you to do what you do. I believe I was built for that moment.”
Ponds was once again an offensive force, but it was St. John’s defense that led the team to a much-needed victory.
The Red Storm forced a whopping 22 turnovers, including 16 in the first half.
Still, as with most things this season, St. John’s knows there’s room for improvement.
“I love our pressure and I love our length,” Mullin said. “It’s just kind of two mindsets, we want to be really aggressive in the backcourt and create havoc, but then in the half court, we want to be disciplined and keep the ball in front of us.”
Georgetown did its best to combat turnovers, winning the battle of the boards, but St. John’s opened up the second half on a 13-5 run and never trailed again.
The Hoyas pulled to within one several times in the waning minutes of the Big East tilt, but St. John’s locked in when it had to.
“Down the stretch, our teammates built our confidence up,” Ponds said. “We were just running off one another’s energy. Down the stretch, we just toughened up.”
Federico Mussini had one of his best performances of the season, coming off the bench to notch 16 points.
Marcus LoVett drained four clutch free throws to ice the game.
St. John’s improved to 5-3 at home in Big East play, settling into a rhythm on both sides of the ball.
Of course, with the Big East Tournament looming – all of which is played at Madison Square Garden – the Red Storm’s ability to win on 34th Street could be a big-time factor as the squad looks to maintain just a bit of postseason hope.
“It can be an advantage for us because this crowd supports us a lot,” Mussini said. “When it gets loud, we feel better on the court. We feel way more confident, we like to play together, and so the crowd is going to be important in the Big East Tournament.”