By Stephen Lepore
Shamorie Ponds had a legendary homecoming for the St. John’s Red Storm in Brooklyn last week, as the Johnnies beat Virginia Commonwealth University 87-86 in overtime to win the annual Legends Classic at the Barclays Center.
The Johnnies made it to the semifinals on the back of an 82-79 win over Cal. Ponds led the way with 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor but it was a team effort that saw four players hit double figures.
A tight game saw the Red Storm trailing with under five minutes to go before some key steals and clutch free throw shooting, as St. John’s went 16-of-19 from the line overall.
The final saw a battle of the unbeatens, as Virginia Commonwealth was also 4-0 after a semifinal victory over Temple.
St. John’s started slow against VCU and fell behind 36-31 by halftime in a tight opening period that saw several lead changes. After the intermission, Ponds showed his true quality, scoring 25 of his 35 points in the second half and overtime.
A fast-break layup from the Brooklyn native saw the Johnnies finally retake the lead with under eight minutes to go. Despite receiving a technical foul, Ponds stayed within himself and remained aggressive, becoming the first Red Storm player since 2014 to record seven steals in a game. A late pair of VCU free throws forced overtime, however, as these teams always seemed destined to take this final to the wire.
In the extra session, Ponds put the Johnnies on his back, as he has so often in his college career. In a tight overtime period that saw both teams go to the line quite a bit, Ponds scored several of his 12 points off free throws in the game.
The junior guard scored the Johnnies’ last four baskets in the extra period, going 4-of-4 from the stripe in the overtime’s final minute and hitting a driving layup with just seconds to go to put the Red Storm up for good.
Head coach Chris Mullin was not surprised by Ponds’ clutch play.
“He makes those shots. Shamorie has a gift of scoring. He’s got incredible touch. He practices those shots. He has an incredible feel and instinct for the game. He made a few incredibly tough shots; shots that only he could make.”
It was St. John’s first early season tournament victory since 2010-11.
His performances in Brooklyn saw Ponds win Big East Player of the Week, the third time he has received the honor. His 67 points across two games were a Legends Classic record. His homecoming kept the Red Storm season’s exciting start running.