St. John’s faced a scheduling conundrum in late August when an opponent surprisingly insisted on pulling out of a game scheduled for this week. The Red Storm was looking at a potential week off before its AdvoCare Invitational quarterfinal on Thanksgiving in Orlando, but it didn’t want to be rusty for its first road games and earliest opportunity to make some noise.
So St. John’s sought a replacement, had trouble finding a Division I opponent at such a late date and thus ended up with Monday night’s underwhelming matchup against Division II Molloy.
And that’s just how the Storm players looked for much of the first half — underwhelmed — as they trailed by five with almost 11 minutes gone. But they closed the first half with a 17-5 run, opened the second by scoring 22 of the first 24 points and finished with a 71-43 victory before 4,424 at Carnesecca Arena.
Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed each scored 14 points for the Red Storm. Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark II added 10 and Arizona transfer Justin Simon contributed seven points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
Curtis Jenkins had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Molloy (1-4).
St. John’s has its first 4-0 start since 2014-15, when it last appeared in the NCAA Tournament, though it has yet to face anything like what lies ahead. The Storm meets Oregon State on Thursday, could see a Missouri team that features high lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. and might even play No. 23 West Virginia.
“I feel we’re ready. We’ve been working hard. And we really needed this game,” Ahmed said. “This was a wake-up call for us. We’re going to go to Orlando and just bring it.”
Said Clark, “First and foremost, it’s an opportunity to bring home a championship. Just going back to my Michigan State days, that’s something [coach] Tom Izzo always took pride in. Just always trying to get that preseason championship just to see what it feels like and carrying that over to conference play.’’
The Storm fell behind 16-11 with 9:16 left in the half, but Ponds had six points and Ahmed five as St. John’s took a 28-21 halftime lead.
“I thought our energy was down. We looked pretty reactive on defense and not the aggressor,” coach Chris Mullin said. “The kind of team we are, we have to be the aggressor and set the tone and set the pace. We did a good job [in the] second half picking that up.”
Clark had eight points, including a pair of three-point plays, and assisted on Ahmed’s breakaway dunk in the first seven minutes of the second half as the Storm broke the game open.
“Our team and how we play and how intelligent we are — we feel like we can play with anybody,” Clark said. “It’s a matter of whether we’re going to bring it from the jump.”