St. John’s men’s hoops off to strong start

Mustapha Heron rises for a slam dunk during St. John’s victory over Loyola Marlyand.
Courtesy of St. John’s
By Stephen Lepore

The St. John’s men’s basketball team has seen early positives in its 2-0 start to the 2018-19 season.

The Red Storm cruised to a 76-55 win in their season opener at Carnesecca Arena against Loyola and gutted out an 84-80 comeback victory against Bowling Green in Jamaica to open their campaign.

Head coach Chris Mullin was unhappy with parts of his team’s second game, falling behind by 11 points to a Bowling Green team picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference’s pre-season poll in the second half, but he was heartened by their ability to fight back and get the win.

“I liked the start, didn’t like the middle part,” Mullin said following the game. “I thought our guys did a nice job regrouping and playing the right way together. Everyone chipped in. To be down 10 points in the second half and be discombobulated and be able to regroup and get a win like this will serve us well in the future.”

Picking up where he left off, junior guard Shamorie Ponds starred for the Red Storm and was elected to the Big East’s weekly Honor Roll for his efforts, putting up 21 points against Bowling Green — including 16 in the second half — and 20 against Loyola. He did all of this despite suffering a knee injury, which Ponds said was a “minor” issue.

Also paying dividends for the Johnnies has been Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron. The junior guard had a team-high 26 points against Bowling Green and proved to be an effective combination with Ponds in the Red Storm backcourt.

Mullin also credited the contributions of depth players like sophomore guard Brian Trimble, Jr. and senior forward Marvin Clark II, who helped pick up the slack when some of the team’s stars weren’t quite clicking.

“It was a little inconsistent but like I said, regrouping like that was encouraging,” he said. “No one played really well all night but they had their little spurts and the added depth helps with that.”

The next week will see the Red Storm play in a couple of showcase games not far from home. On Friday, they’ll face off against former Big East rival Rutgers in the Gavitt Tipoff Games in Piscataway, N.J. The games are a series of one-offs between Big East and Big Ten teams. The Scarlet Knights have also begun their season with two victories against non-conference opponents.

Next, they’ll begin play in the annual Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. A showdown with California awaits Monday.

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