Among the many skills that St. John’s has shown on its best days is the one that allows the team to swat away a bad memory as if it never existed, or as if it were a shot that gets blocked on the way to the hoop. The Red Storm showed that ability again Saturday, and blocked a bunch of shots, too.
Reversing the tone of its loss to Seton Hall last month, a game in which Chris Mullin said his players had been “soft and selfish,” the Storm stifled opposing big man Angel Delgado and wiped clean another slate with a 78-70 victory at Madison Square Garden.
It was no small matter, beating an opponent that has its sights set on the NCAA Tournament and revolves around the towering play of Delgado, who had 21 points and 20 rebounds against St. John’s on Jan. 22.
“Last time we played them, we got outrebounded bad, we got kind of bullied. But I felt we had a complete team effort this time around,” said 6-11 forward Tariq Owens, who had four of the Red Storm’s nine blocks and added 10 points and 12 rebounds. “We made sure we did what we had to do on the glass, containing them.”
St. John’s has won three of five since that debacle in Newark three weeks ago. “That was probably our worst game of the year,” Mullin said, which was really saying something for a team that lost to Delaware State in November. But in each case, the Storm (12-14, 6-7 in the Big East) has rebounded.
Throughout the day, there were chants of “Cha-arles Oak-ley” and “We Want Oakley!” but in the end, the biggest cheers were for the home team.
Mullin’s team was tough and unselfish this time. It surrounded Delgado and possibly got in his head with the blocks. “I just had a tough night,” Delgado said in a voice that was, like his 13 points and 10 rebounds, rather quiet. “They just played really good today and you’ve got to give them credit.”
The St. John’s guards helped out, swatting at the ball whenever Delgado tried dribbling. “Defensively, we stepped up. That was major,’’ Marcus LoVett said. “That’s what we talked about in our practice as the guards, trying to get as many steals and deflections as we could.”
It was not just defense. The Storm rides on the shooting of its backcourt and it got that from LoVett, who had 19 points off the bench, and Shamorie Ponds, who scored 17. Those two were very important down the stretch, when Seton Hall was trying to make a run.
But the most pivotal running was done in the first half by Owens, who blocked Delgado’s shot, raced downcourt and dunked an offensive rebound. It was a resilient play for a resilient team.
“We bounce back by sticking together,” Owens said. “After a bad game or a loss, you can’t go back and change it, so all you can do is get back in the gym and prepare for the next one.”
The result is a season that isn’t half bad. Said Mullin, “We’ve shown we can be dangerous to our opponents and dangerous to ourselves. We’ve just got to be sure we’re dangerous to our opponents more often.”