Shamorie Ponds stood near midcourt dribbling the basketball as his St. John’s teammates spread out on the baseline to give him room. The sophomore guard had slipped into a zone and scored 13 straight St. John’s points to push the Red Storm’s lead over Marquette to 10. The sellout crowd of 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena rose to its feet and began to roar with anticipation.
Ponds did not score on that possession, but a scene like this at St. John’s has been a long time coming.
A team that only eight days earlier was in a six-week, 11-game losing streak is now playing unbeatable basketball. St. John’s ran its winning streak to three with an 86-78 Big East victory Saturday before its suddenly electrified fan base. And Ponds turned up the wattage with 44 points, a record for the on-campus arena and a tie for the fourth-highest-scoring game in school history.
Coach Chris Mullin was asked if, in a college career in which he was named Big East Player of the Year three times, he’d ever turned in a performance like Ponds’. “No way,” he replied. “Not even close.”
Tacking this win onto last weekend’s victory over then-No. 4 Duke and the Wednesday win at top-ranked Villanova, Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said of St. John’s, “They’re as a hot a team as there is in the United States.” And though it feels as if St. John’s has grabbed and held the nation’s attention for a while, Mullin said, “The six weeks before felt like six years.”
“It’s about time,” Justin Simon said. “Coach said all we need is one and it will string along to the other games. We’ve lost every way we could and we just learned from our mistakes and [now] limit our mistakes and play hard and play together.”
Ponds had 27 of his points in the second half, shooting 9-for-12 to complete a 16-for-23 performance. In the last four games — which includes the close loss to then-No. 6 Xavier, the Storm’s 11th straight defeat — he has averaged 33.5 points.
“He’s been playing amazing basketball,” Simon said. “Just like [everyone], I get caught up watching instead of going for offensive rebounds or getting back on defense. I’m a fan, too.”
St. John’s closed the first half with a 15-6 run — shooting 6-for-7 in the final 6:24 — for a 34-32 lead at the break.
Tariq Owens had a three-pointer and a layup on the Storm’s first two possessions of the second half for a seven-point lead.
Ponds’ 13 straight points — including two tough three-pointers on consecutive possessions — propelled St. John’s (13-13, 2-11 Big East) to a 71-61 lead with 7:40 to play. The Golden Eagles (14-11, 5-8) never got closer than seven points after that.
Simon had 16 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for St. John’s, which shot 76.2 percent from the floor in the second half and turned 10 Eagles turnovers into 19 points overall.
Andrew Rowsey had 34 points for Marquette and leading scorer Markus Howard — who came in averaging 22 points and often was guarded by Ponds — was limited to 18.
Of course, it was Ponds’ offense that got most of the attention. “It felt good,’’ he said. “Just to see one go in from the beginning. I was confident the whole game and I felt like just keep a foot on their neck. My teammates believed in me, fed me and fed off of me.”
Seeing the way the crowd reacted to his every move, he said, “was indescribable.”
Said Wojciechowski, “Ponds is a pro. We’ve played some great guards this year and it seems like every team in our [conference] has good guards, but that son of a gun is a pro. The way he commands the game, his ability to score, his presence on the floor. He was sensational and we had no answers for him. He’s a big-time player . . . He took over in the second half.”