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Without Shamorie Ponds, No. 24 St. John's falls to DePaul for second straight loss

A back strain keeps the Red Storm's best player on the bench.

Shamorie Ponds  of the St. John's Red

Shamorie Ponds  of the St. John's Red Storm looks on from the bench against DePaul game at Carnesecca Arena on Jan. 12, 2019. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

And now St. John’s is on a losing streak.

The 24th-ranked Red Storm got dealt a bad blow before taking the court Saturday: Star guard Shamorie Ponds was sidelined for the game after being diagnosed with a lower back strain.

Then DePaul exploited its height advantage — four starters are 6-6 or taller — in a 79-71 Big East win over St. John’s before a sellout crowd of 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena.

Ponds, who sat on the bench in street clothes, is “day-to-day,’’ according to coach Chris Mullin. He gave no indication whether the team’s leading scorer will return for Wednesday’s game against Creighton.

“Obviously, he’s a great, great player,” Mullin said. “You have to approach things a little differently. Any time you take your best player off the team, it has an effect.”

Mullin clearly was upset about the officiating. St. John’s (14-3, 2-3) got called for 21 fouls to the Blue Demons’ nine and DePaul (10-5, 2-2) attempted 28 free throws to the Red Storm’s six.

Mullin already was fuming when the Blue Demons got into the bonus five minutes into the second half. He was whistled for a technical foul with 5:04 to play.

DePaul repeatedly backed down St. John’s defenders on the low block for a pile of layups.

“It’s part of any competition — you hold your ground,” Mullin said. “Then when we got into the [double bonus] with 15 minutes left, it takes some aggression away. We’ll do a much better job from here on out of holding our ground. If that’s illegal, so be it.  Look at the stat sheet. Everything is similar except one thing.”

LJ Figueroa had 23 points, Justin Simon added 20 points and seven assists, and Marvin Clark II had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Red Storm, who shot 5-for-19 from three-point range.

Femi Olujobi (Brentwood) scored 27 points and Paul Reed had 18 points and 10 rebounds for DePaul, which had 14 offensive rebounds that it turned into six baskets. The Blue Demons also converted 11 turnovers into 17 points.

St. John’s, trying to bounce back from Tuesday’s loss at Villanova, ended up with its first home loss of the season.

“We were ready to play. We felt good going in,” Clark said. “On the defensive end, we just got [pounded] in the post. We gave them too many extra possessions. You can’t win games that way.”

He added that he is confident that St. John’s will be able to bounce back because “we have a lot of guys who know how to handle adversity.”

During the first half, the Red Storm really struggled to adjust to the loss of Ponds. The junior guard averages 34.2 minutes overall and 38.5 minutes in Big East contests. He also has the ball in his hands a lot, and for stretches in the first half, St. John’s seemed to lack direction. However, a late run allowed the Red Storm to cut their deficit to 31-30 at halftime.

In the middle of the second half, Reed had six straight points in a 13-4 run that put the Blue Demons up 52-41. Clark sank a three-pointer and a one-hander in the lane on consecutive possessions to get St. John’s within 58-54 with 7:27 to play.

But with DePaul marching to the free-throw line 23 times in the second half, the Red Storm was never able to catch up.

“I just thought our post defense wasn’t good tonight,” Simon said. “They got whatever looks they wanted down there.”

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