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St. John’s will have Shamorie Ponds back for Wednesday’s Big East Tournament opener against Georgetown

Shamorie Ponds #2 of the St. John's Red

Shamorie Ponds #2 of the St. John's Red Storm is seen in street clothes as he is not dressed for the NCAA men's basketball game against the Butler Bulldogs at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday, Feb 28, 2018. Credit: Steven Ryan

St. John’s second chance will begin with a third crack and with its top player back in the starting lineup.

The Red Storm’s regular season was busted when it followed a solid non-conference slate with 11 straight losses in Big East play. As with all teams, it gets a second life with Wednesday’s start of the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden and the chance to avenge two narrow losses to Georgetown.

Sophomore Shamorie Ponds, the conference’s leading scorer with a 21.6-point average, is expected to be back in the lineup after missing the last two games with an abdominal strain.

Ponds practiced for the first time in more than a week on Monday, performed without limitation and also practiced on Tuesday.

“I have stressed with these guys that this is a whole new ballgame, a whole new season so we should come out with a brand new energy,” coach Chris Mullin said. “Everyone’s record is 0-0 and play as such. Those experiences we have been through will help in-game, but who knows what is going to unfold tomorrow night? I want to see a whole new energy to the team . . . It’s like a new breath of light. We could really do some things. If we stick together and play unselfish good things can happen.”

Indeed they could, especially in a new season in which every game is on your home floor. No. 9 St. John’s (15-16) would have to win four games in four nights for what would be billed as a miracle trip to the NCAA Tournament. Win two or three games and the NIT could be in play.

And it’s not like we haven’t seen the Storm do some special things since the 0-11 conference start. It shocked then-No. 4 Duke at the Garden and followed it with a road win at then-No. 1 Villanova to start a four-game win streak.

“I know it is going to be very exciting if we get on a run,” senior Bashir Ahmed said. “I believe we can win the entire thing . . . We beat Duke and Villanova this year and a lot of people didn’t expect that, but it just proves anything is possible. That motivates us and gives us confidence.”

Mullin knows first-hand what it’s like when St. John’s goes on a tournament roll at the Garden. He was on the 1983 tournament champion and the 1985 runner up. “To be able to put it together a few games in a row would be phenomenal and something I want them to experience,” he said.

That notion would perish with a third loss to the Hoyas. No. 8 Georgetown (15-14) beat the Storm, 69-66, Jan. 9 at the Garden on Jessie Govan’s three-pointer with 25 seconds left. It topped the Storm, 93-89, in double overtime on Jan. 20 in Washington; St. John’s was up three, didn’t foul and Marcus Derrickson hit a game-tying three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left to force a second OT. The Hoyas scored the next six points.

“I feel like we have beaten ourselves. We were possessions away from winning games,” sophomore Justin Simon said. “Those two games were really close . . . It is very hard to beat a team three times.”

Having Ponds back makes it much, much tougher.

“He is an amazing player and he has done great things for us this year,” Simon said. “We will be that much better with him out there and I love our chances with him out there.”

Wednesday

Big East Tournament

First round, with seeding

No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 St. John’s, 7 p.m., FS1

No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 DePaul, 9:30 p.m., FS1

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