Despite a run down the stretch that threatened to derail their postseason hopes, St. John’s basketball is headed back to the dance.
Chris Mullen’s Red Storm team will be the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015, but they face a difficult challenge as the last team selected to the brackets. St. John’s will, for the first time in its history, participate in the “First Four” round in Dayton, Ohio, where they’ll have to beat Pac-12 foes Arizona State.
“It’s about the university, the team, the student body, our fan base, and the people that support us,” said Mullen. “Historically, this is what St. John’s has always been. To get back to that point, I’m very happy for my players. We’ve gotten progressively better, taking small steps and this is a big step forward.”
The Johnnies lost five or their last seven games, including a disastrous exit to a Marquette team they had beaten twice previously this season in the Big East Tournament. St. John’s finished the season with the seventh best conference record in the Big East, nearly damaging the March Madness hopes of a squad that began the season 13-0.
Junior guard and leading scorer Shamorie Ponds says this will fuel his team’s underdog status. “It definitely adds fuel to the fire. We should go in there with that mindset since everyone wanted to count us out. We have to prove everyone wrong and play St. John’s basketball.”
Their reward is a matchup with an Arizona State team that finished second in what was considered by many to be a weak Pac-12 Conference in 2018-19. The Sun Devils went 22-10 with a 12-6 record in conference play. Their quality wins include triumphs over tournament-bound teams like Mississippi State, then-No. 1 Kansas and doing the double over their in-state rivals Arizona. The crashed out of the Pac-12 Tournament at the hands of eventual champion Oregon.
For Ponds and company, this tournament entry just means another chance to show the progress St. John’s basketball have made under Mullen: “I’m excited to go out there and play. This is what we work all year for and we finally have an opportunity to take advantage of it. It’s a blessing. As it was winding down, I kept thinking, are we in? It definitely felt good to get in.”