The wins keep coming. A defining moment, perhaps, still awaits.
St. John’s was very much exactly what it should be as it made its Garden debut on Sunday. The Red Storm showcased its dynamic scoring ability and put together a nice second half stretch to extend a lead as it rolled over Princeton, 89-74, before 10,078 at the annual MSG Holiday Festival.
However St. John’s – now 9-0 for the first time since 1991-92 – was far from scoring a perfect 10 on the effort. A spate of turnovers caused it to blow all of a 10-point lead in the first half before it managed a 41-38 lead at the break. And after it exploded on a 15-2 run behind the play of Shamorie Ponds to take a 14-point lead in the middle of the second half, it let the Tigers (4-4) creep back within 80-74 before scoring the game’s final nine points.
“We performed well in stretches,” Marvin Clark II said. “We have a lot to improve on but it’s nothing major, just paying attention to minor details, just realizing that the game is not over . . . Once we figure out that once we get that lead to start stepping on guys’ throats, that’s when we’ll reach our full potential.”
The Storm has a couple good-looking wins over VCU and Georgia Tech but still hasn’t played a game that leaves no doubts and propels it into the Top 25. With the Big East opener less than three weeks away, there is time for mprovement. However, remaining games against Wagner, St. Francis Brooklyn and Sacred Heart are unlikely to provide the platform for a defining moment.
Ponds had 18 of his 26 points in the second half, including seven points, a steal and an assist in the second-half run. The Storm shot 56 percent for the game and 39 percent on three pointers, though it did allow a Princeton team that averaged 7.9 three-pointers to make 13.
St. John’s coach Chris Mullin held regulars Clark, Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa out of the game until the first media timeout, but refused to explain why they were disciplined. They responded with a combined 41 points and 21 rebounds. Asked if he got the desired result from benching them, Mullin said, “Yes . . . I feel like we accomplished our goal. It’s over and move on.”
The Brooklyn product Ponds again showed his knack of bringing a Garden crowd to life when he accelerated the 15-2 run with a three-pointer at the top of the arc. The cheers became more frenzied with each play he made in the run, loudest on his steal and layup for a 66-52 lead with 10:51 left.
Ponds is averaging 24.4 points in eight Garden appearances the past two seasons. Asked about how a Garden crowd reacts to him, Ponds said, “Madison Square Garden is the most famous arena. That said, they’re extra pumped and we just feed off that energy.”
St. John's honors 'OC.' The Storm honored alumnus and Hall of Fame basketball writer Jim O’Connell with a commemorative patch on their uniforms and St. John’s officials presented a commemorative plaque to O’Connell’s family that will hang in the Garden press room. Referring to O’Connell by nickname, Mullin said, “ ‘OC’ was a really good friend of mine. I always admired his class, his humility and his dignity. He did a great job covering basketball but more I appreciated his friendship.”