By Stephen Lepore
After a win over a ranked team to end 2018, St. John’s men’s basketball looks poised for an exciting 2019.
Following a 76-74 loss to Seton Hall in Newark, N.J. that ended the Red Storm’s undefeated start, the Johnnies bounced back with a dominant 89-69 victory over No. 18 Marquette to move to 12-1 send a message that they’d be competitive in the Big East this season.
The Red Storm made a statement early this season with victories over big conference programs — including Cal and Georgia Tech, the former on the way to a win in the pre-season Legends Classic Tournament in Brooklyn. Prior to the loss to Seton Hall, St. John’s had won its previous five games by double digit margins. If they head into the Big East season with the same intensity, they’ll likely be headed for the AP Top 25 and a postseason berth.
Junior guard Shamorie Ponds has once again led the way for the Johnnies. The 2018 first team All-Big East selection has averaged more than 19 points per game, leading the team. He’s gotten support this season from incoming transfer Mustapha Heron (15.9 points per game), sophomore L.J. Figueroa (14.6 points per game and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds per game) and redshirt senior Marvin Clark II (13.2 points per game).
Head coach Chris Mullin says the crowds at Carneseca Arena and Madison Square Garden have been a big factor.
“They realize that it’s been a progression and they’ve watched it grow,” he said following the win over Marquette. “When you do it that way, there’s a buy-in. People feel connected to it. It’s authentic and genuine. We win and lose the same way.”
The 2019 portion of the schedule features many tough tests. All but one Big East team enters the year with nine-plus victories, with five teams — including the Red Storm — already winning 10 games or more. While Marquette is the only ranked team in the conference, the Johnnies will face tough tests from the likes of Georgetown, Providence and Villanova.
St. John’s schedule also features a difficult trip to the legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the Duke Blue Devils in a rematch of the Red Storm’s victory at Madison Square Garden last year.
The season concludes, as always, with the Big East Tournament March 13-16 at Madison Square Garden. A total of 21+ wins has usually been a bellwether for a Big East program making the NCAA Tournament, so a record of 9-9 in conference and a respectable showing at MSG in the conference tournament could get the Red Storm into the big dance.