Shamorie Ponds had just found Mustapha Heron on the break for a rim-rattling dunk with 3:49 left. The sellout crowd of 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena was on its feet at this punctuation mark on St. John’s takedown of 16th-ranked Marquette Tuesday night. And loud as it was as a timeout was whistled, Marvin Clark II stood at center court exhorting the throng to even higher decibels.
In that moment of St. John’s 89-69 Big East victory, the team looked every bit like the one that is expected to be a Big East contender and a player come March.
“I was feeling jubilation for our fan base,” Clark said. “This program – even before I got here – it was going through it. I wanted to show them appreciation. They continued to be loyal and it’s finally paid off. Now they have a team this season that they can really support.”
St. John’s (13-1, 1-1) couldn’t have started the New Year any better. It shook off Saturday’s stinging road loss to Seton Hall and the controversial last-second whistle that allowed the Pirates to score the game-winner and put up a signature victory in the most important on-campus game in years.
St. John’s margin of victory was its largest over a ranked opponent since a 21-point win over then-No. 20 Pittsburgh on Dec. 9, 1998. It is the Storm’s first win over a ranked team on campus since it beat No. 13 Butler two seasons ago.
Ponds took Saturday’s loss very personally and shouldered the blame for it. He missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final 30 seconds at Seton Hall and apologized to his team in the locker room and to its fans on social media.
He was a force against the Golden Eagles (11-3, 0-1), who had an eight-game winning streak snapped. He scored 10 points in the first four minutes as St. John’s grabbed a 13-5 lead and scored the Storm’s last nine points as it finished the first half on a 14-6 burst for a 39-31 advantage. He finished with 26 points, shooting 8-for-15, and added seven rebounds and five assists.
“As soon as the buzzer went off you could tell he was upset [Saturday],” Clark said. “When we got to the locker room, he apologized to us and we talked as a team and put it behind us. He came out tonight and lived up to his word. He told us he had us and he played real big tonight. We fed off that.”
“I know he didn’t feel good about that game,” coach Chris Mullin said. “I thought he played a beautiful game. Feeling like he did two days ago and coming back and leading his team – that’s what college basketball is all about.”
Said Ponds: “I needed to bounce back individually, but as a team we needed to bounce back. There were a couple errors in that game and it shouldn’t have gotten to the point it did.”
Clark had 22 points and shot 7-for-10. Heron had 16 points, Justin Simon scored12 points and LJ Figeroa added 11 for the Storm, which shot 54 percent from the floor for the game and 46 percent on three-pointers. St. John’s was also strong on the defensive end, limiting Marquette to 42 percent shooting, forcing a dozen turnovers and converting them to 14 points and holding leading scorer Markus Howard to 2-for-15 shooting.
Joey Hauser’s 15 points paced the Eagles.
St. John’s won its first 12 games but got little in the way of national recognition because it’s non-conference strength of schedule was so poor. Last Saturday’s game was a chance to maybe break into the rankings but, after the loss, they appeared on only one ballot this past week. A win like this might change some impressions.
“We’ve got some talented guys on our team and when we’re playing together and sharing the ball, it’s hard to stop us as you can see,” Clark said. “This shows that we have a talented team. We still have a lot to prove. This shows that whatever the naysayers were saying about our non-conference schedule doesn’t matter.”
“They never questioned themselves once,” Mullin said. “It was never a question in our locker room. Whoever we play, we feel we have a good enough team to beat anybody. We have to play the right way and be fundamentally sound. But I know for a fact that team in there, the [rankings] don’t mean a lot.”