By Zach Gewelb
The St. John’s men’s basketball team continued its surprising turnaround, defeating Marquette, 86-78 Saturday after shocking No. 1 Villanova, 79-75 just three days earlier. The impressive victories come after the Red Storm defeated then-No. 4 Duke to snap an 11-game losing streak and bumped up their record to 13-13 (2-11 in conference) on the season.
Shamorie Ponds has been the spark the Johnnies needed, recording 70 total points in the back-to-back wins, including 44 against Marquette. That came after he willed the Red Storm to victory against top-ranked Villanova. The win marked the first time St. John’s defeated the nation’s top-ranked team in 33 years.
Despite being a massive underdog, St. John’s showed it wasn’t intimidated and went toe-to-toe with ‘Nova, taking a 39-34 advantage into intermission.
“I never walk into a game thinking that we have no chance,” head coach Chris Mullin said.
The Johnnies worked hard to maintain their lead in the second half. Nova’ tied the game at 41-41 early in the stanza, but St. John’s reclaimed the lead and never looked back, staying a step ahead of the Wildcats for the remainder of the game.
Ponds led the way with 26 points and Justin Simon recorded a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 boards, while adding seven assists to his ledger. Marvin Clark II added an efficient 15 points and Bashir Ahmed scored 10.
The victory over ‘Nova marked the first time St. John’s defeated two programs ranked in the top five in back-to-back games.
“It’s big for the university, and it’s also big for us,” Ponds said. “I feel like it will give us the little spark that we need going into the rest of the season. Two-huge wins. We’ve never lost the confidence, but no one wants to go through the losing. I feel like we stayed together, but we weren’t getting the outcomes that we wanted. If we stayed together, it would eventually fall through.”
The wins gave St. John’s momentum heading into its showdown with Marquette, and the Johnnies didn’t disappoint on their home court, earning their third consecutive victory.
Ponds and his 44 points were the game’s biggest story, but Justin Simon also had a nice game, chipping in 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The score remained tight throughout the first half, with the Red Storm taking a slim 34-32 advantage into the second half. From there, Ponds took over the game for the Johnnies. He went 9-of-12 from the field and scored 27 points in the second half alone. He finished the night shooting 16-of-23 — including 4-of-7 from three-point range. His 44 total points are the most scored in the 57-year history of Carnesecca Arena, which left Mullin impressed.
“I think its self-explanatory. Historic. He broke the building record, so that speaks for itself,” Mullin said. “Just an incredible performance, he’s played really well since he’s been here. Looks like he’s got more pop and more energy… I was glad to see that. It was a legendary, historic performance… no comparisons.”
“I mean it is a blessing,” Ponds said of his historic night. “All the great players who came through this university, for my name to be up there, it’s a dream come true.”
“It felt good to see the ball go in, trying to mix it up,” he added. “Going to the rack, free throws, mid-range, three point, it felt good out there… Just to see one go in from the beginning of the game. I was confident the entire game. I just try to keep the foot on the gas.”
St. John’s took care of business in the second half, outscoring Marquette by six to secure the victory.
Armed with renewed confidence, St. John’s will look to continue its hot streak and end the season on a high note before the Big East Tournament in March.
“It’s about time we turned it around. Coach [Mullin] has said all we need is one,” Simon said. “We’ve lost every way we could, and now we learn from our mistakes. We limit them. We play hard and play together.”
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe