The day is coming — maybe this season or maybe next — when St. John’s could transform back into a contender. When that day comes, don’t be surprised if the Red Storm and coach Chris Mullin look back on Thursday night’s win as a turning point.
St. John’s played precisely the way it’s going to need to if it is to make that jump as it crushed Fordham 90-62 before 4,474 at Carnesecca Arena.
It very well may have been fueled by last season’s embarrassing loss to the Rams which came with accusations of running the score up and a confrontation between head coaches in the handshake line, but Thursday night St. John’s played with an intensity not seen in Mullin’s two seasons and it brought out an equally high level of execution.
With Mullin eschewing his seat to stalk the sidelines and emote for close to 40 minutes, the Storm (5-5) sparkled on both ends of the floor to win its third straight.
It shot 58 percent from the floor, had 24 assists on 32 baskets, made 15 three-pointers on 31 tries and held the Rams (5-5) to 36 percent shooting. To a man, everyone on the storm bench thought it the best performance to-date.
“We were so ready. We knew . . . what happened last year,” said Federico Mussini, who scored 20. “(Now) we’ve got to always have this mentality no matter who we play against. We have to go out and play as hard as we can for 40 minutes.”
No one stood out like Shamorie Ponds, who is blossoming at an accelerated rate with leading scorer Marcus LoVett out with an ankle sprain. The freshman had 26 points on 9-for-13 shooting including seven threes to go with nine assists and four steals. All are career highs. And LoVett is expected to return Sunday against LIU Brooklyn.
“He’s way ahead of schedule,” Mullin said. “I always felt Shamorie was the perfect guy for us, just his personality. He wanted to come play here . . . He wanted the big stage and he performs on big stages — that’s what he likes to do. His make-up is built perfect for it.
“(He) is evolving. He’s really, really smart. He’s also got really great instincts.”
“We miss (LoVett) dearly but when somebody goes down, somebody’s got to step up,” Ponds said.
St. John’s rode five treys to take a 10-point lead after nine minutes and then nearly gave it all up before closing the first half with an 8-0 run for a 42-33 lead. It started the second half with a 15-5 burst featuring a four-point play and trey by Ponds. When Ponds found Tariq Owens for an thundering alley-oop with 8:25 left the lead was 67-45 and it was bedlam in Carnesecca.
The Storm now sees the intensity required to win. So, too, may Mullin. As Mussini said, “(He) gave us the motivation to play hard — we play for him.” They have a sort of blueprint.
“I think they are starting to see the difference,” Mullin said. “That’s experience.”