PHOENIX — Shamorie Ponds scored 28 points for his sixth 20-plus game, Justin Simon had 17 points — a career best — and 11 rebounds, and St. John’s held off Grand Canyon, 68-60, on Tuesday night.
Ponds’ steal and breakaway dunk made it 58-43 with 5:52 left but Casey Benson’s three-point play pulled Grand Canyon within 62-55 with 1:52 to go.
Ponds hit another layup with 1:24 remaining to give the Red Storm (8-1) a 66-55 lead.
The Antelopes (5-2) made it 66-59 with 55.6 seconds left and forced a turnover on the inbounds pass, but missed two three-pointers and a hook shot in the lane on one possession.
Simon sealed it with two free throws with 22.3 seconds left for a nine-point lead.
“He’s just so versatile,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said of Simon. “He’s really good in the open floor. When we have Marcus [LoVett] available, we have three guards who are really, real ly dangerous. They are also different types of guards with different skill sets. I thought tonight Justin showed a lot with Marcus not being here, but he’s a really, really gifted athlete. He has a good feel for the game, can play inside, and is good in the open floor.”
LoVett (sprained knee), the team’s second-leading scorer, is not on this trip.
“We just never got going offensively,” Mullin said. “We had a little spurt there, but they [Antelopes] just kept coming back. We got up by about 10 or 11 in the first half, but then they made some three-pointers, got some offensive boards, and they played really hard. I told our guys before the game that [Grand Canyon] has some talented players, and anytime we built a leadm they came right back. We just were able to hang in there, made some free throws, and played until the final buzzer.”
Marvin Clark II added 10 points for St. John’s, which turned 21 Grand Canyon turnovers into 22 points. Red Storm senior Bashir Ahmed had seven points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
St. John’s was ahead 25-14 after back-to-back threes by Simon and Ponds. The Antelopes went without a field goal for nearly eight minutes in the half, but closed on an 8-3 run — with threes from Joshua Braun and Gerard Martin — to get within 32-27.
Grand Canyon had just 13 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
Benson finished with 18 points, Braun had 13, and Roberts Blumbergs 10 for Grand Canyon, which plays in the Western Athletic Conference. Keonta Vernon grabbed 15 rebounds.
In the first game of the doubleheader, Arizona beat No. 7 Texas A&M, 67-64.
St. John’s next game is Friday against No. 16 Arizona State in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the opener of a tripleheader that also features No. 25 USC versus Oklahoma and No. 20 TCU against No. 22 Nevada.