Call them the 12 wins before Christmas.
St. John’s may not have faced the nation’s top competition in the course of its non-conference slate, but Chris Mullin’s surging squad completed its first 12-0 start in 36 years with a thorough 104-82 rout of Sacred Heart on Saturday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Still unranked in the national polls, the Red Storm will open their Big East slate next Saturday against Seton Hall in Newark, followed by the conference home opener against Marquette on campus on New Year’s Day.
“Well, December 29th, we play and we’ll be ready,” Mullin said. “Everything that’s happened up until this point is in the past now, and we’ll take a few days off for Christmas and then get ready to play.
“Everything we do is geared toward progression and improvement and a lot is geared toward what we do . . . But the Big East Conference is always exciting.”
St. John’s is one of only five undefeated teams in Division I and one of only three teams in school history since 1950 to reach double digits in wins before registering a loss.
The Red Storm have been among the other teams receiving votes in the AP poll in recent weeks, but they still haven’t been nationally ranked since the week of Jan. 5, 2015 (24th).
“It was a hell of a non-conference [schedule] for our university and our team and our program, but the next step is Big East play, and that’s when it really matters,” said Marvin Clark II, who sank six three-pointers and scored all of his 23 points in the first half.
Mustapha Heron also scored 23 points. LJ Figueroa had 15 and leading scorer Shamorie Ponds scored 11 of his 13 after halftime. He also had nine assists for the rising Red Storm, who have won at least a dozen games in succession to open a season for the first time since Mullin’s heyday as an All-American player at the Queens school, a 14-0 start in 1982-83.
“We can’t control what anyone says, we can only control what we control, and that’s getting wins,” Ponds said. “We may not be playing the top tier, but 12-and-0 is 12-and-0.”
St. John’s came out firing and scored the game’s first 14 points en route to a 29-10 lead, featuring five threes from Clark.
With his teammates shouldering the scoring load, Ponds — the Big East preseason player of the year — didn’t even attempt a shot until 2:25 remained before intermission.
Sacred Heart (4-8) got as close as eight with the first seven points after halftime, but Ponds scored eight and Heron contributed six in an 18-0 surge that ballooned the Red Storm advantage to 71-46.
Ponds later bounced a no-look pass between his legs to Figueroa for an uncontested layup that boosted the lead to 28 midway through the period, and his three-pointer with barely seven minutes left sent St. John’s over the 90-point mark for the first time this season. The 104 points represented the team’s highest total since 2013 against Fordham.
Just in time for Big East play.
“All I can say is look back two or three years, and we were losing these games. So it feels good to put some things together,” Clark said. “I don’t know if we’re not playing big-time teams or whatever, but all that matters is winning.”