By Zach Gewelb
It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win no matter how it happened.
The St. John’s men’s basketball team overcame a poor offensive performance to defeat UCF 46-43 Sunday and improve to 6-1 on the season.
Sophomore guard Marcus LoVett led the Johnnies with 12 points, while junior Marvin Clark II added 11. The duo represents the only St. John’s players to score in double figures in the contest.
While the Red Storm shot just 27 percent from the field, their defense limited UCF to 26 percent shooting and a putrid 1-of-13 from beyond the arc.
“The most important thing is that we won, and that’s all we kept talking about,” head coach Chris Mullin said. “I kept telling them about playing great defense, rebounding the ball well, and I thought early on we had half-court rhythm. We were just getting nothing out of those good stops … we had a few turnovers in the open floor and missed layups. From our standpoint, to hang in there and get the win was the only thing we really concerned ourselves with. It was probably as ugly of a game as you are going to see on both sides, but someone had to win. I’m glad it was us.”
Despite the Johnnies’shooting woes, the squad still managed to drain seven three-pointers, including two from LoVett and three from Clark II. The strong performances from LoVett and Clark II helped the Johnnies survive despite a poor performance from sophomore standout Shamorie Ponds, who did not score a point in the first half and finished with six points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Despite his untimely struggles, Ponds knew his teammates had his back and never lost confidence in their ability to pull out a win.
“I’m pretty confident in my team, and feel like anyone can lead the way at any time when it comes to scoring,” Ponds said. “It doesn’t matter who scores the most at halftime or at the end of the game because we are going to fill up the stat sheet.”
While LoVett and Clark II led the Red Storm on the offensive end, the team used strong performances from Tariq Owens and Justin Simon to stifle UCF on the defensive end of the court.
St. John’s recorded 15 blocks as a team, with Owens recording a team-best five swats and Simon tallying four. Simon also grabbed eight rebounds, while Ponds was active on the glass with 10 rebounds and three steals.
“I thought our activity was good,” Mullin said of his team’s defensive effort. “The part that was tough was that we were getting great stops … coming from the weak side, getting those balls, getting out in the open floor, but almost every time we had a hard time getting from defense to offense, which we are usually pretty good at. Probably not going to watch this film and be grateful that we are 6-1.”
The defense allowed just one UCF player to score more than 10 points and limited 7-foot-6 big man Tacko Fall to eight points and six rebounds despite the match-up problems the Senegal-born product presents.
“He had some nice blocks, and I think your inclination as a competitor is to go challenge him when the real play is to get in there and kick back out,” Mullin said. “I thought overall we want to play similar to how we always play … you don’t want to change everything you do, but we had to be aware of him on both sides of the floor.”
The win over UCF came just two days after St. John’s was handed its first loss of the season. The Johnnies won their first give games of the year, but fell 90-82 in a closely contested game against Missouri. They could’ve let the loss stick around in the back of their minds heading into the game against UCF, but the Red Storm tried to leave it in the past and eventually persevered.
“It’s very important. It’s pivotal for our [mentality] and our team,” Clark II said of the bounceback win. “We dropped one against Mizzou that we felt like we should have won, so it was very pivotal. During our day off yesterday, we talked about making sure that we left Orlando with a 6-1 record. I’m happy we got to accomplish that goal.”
The Johnnies will come back to Queens and put their 6-1 record on the line when they host the Sacred Heart Pioneers Saturday, Dec. 2, at Carnesecca Arena.
Opening tip is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe