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Shamorie Ponds rediscovers his form as St. John's pays back Seton Hall

Shamorie Ponds, who had 27 points and shot

Shamorie Ponds, who had 27 points and shot 10-for-18, is defended by Seton Hall's Myles Powell, who scored 26 points in St. John's 78-70 victory on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at Madison Square Garden.   Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

It was senior night for St. John’s on Saturday, and so Marvin Clark II wanted something both memorable and significant. The 6-7 senior’s high-intensity play and Shamorie Ponds’ return to the spotlight made sure he checked both boxes.

The Red Storm set a lot of things straight at Madison Square Garden by racing to a huge early lead and repelling every Seton Hall charge in a 78-70 Big East victory before 18,529 to move into third place.

St. John’s (20-8, 8-7) created questions about its mental toughness this past week in an embarrassing loss at Providence, but the Red Storm showed plenty of grit in scoring this key win.

Ponds proved that his recent slump was merely a blip, scoring 27 points and shooting 10-for-18. Clark redeemed himself for his ejection Wednesday night against Providence with an impassioned 18-point effort. And the Storm made certain that the terrible officiating call that cost them a game against Seton Hall on Dec. 29 didn’t carry into a season sweep.

“I feel like the guys were just cheering me on. They told me to do my thing,” Ponds said. “It felt good to get a win in front of the crowd and it was a great win for us.”

Of the erroneous officiating call that took LJ Figueroa’s game-winning play off the board and gave Seton Hall a chance to make the winning shot in the final seconds of the first meeting, Ponds said: “It was definitely payback. We always kept in the back of our minds what they did at the end of the game to us. So we just wanted to put our foot on their neck early.”

The only tarnish on this great night for Clark — who played before his family for the first time in New York — and the Storm was Mustapha Heron being sidelined by right knee tendinitis for the second time in five games. Coach Chris Mullin said the condition is chronic and termed him “day-to-day.”

Ponds hit a three-pointer on the Storm’s first possession and a pull-up jumper on the second, and Clark added a pair of three-pointers as St. John’s opened a 17-2 lead. When Figueroa tapped in his own miss with 11:11 left in the half, it was 28-5.

“Give St. John’s credit: They came out and they knew how important this game was and they came out hungry like a pack of dogs and put us on our heels a little bit,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “[Clark] looked like he knew he wanted this game. He looked like a fifth-year senior who was going to do whatever it took. Their whole team fed off him really well.”

St. John’s led 38-20 at the break before the Pirates (16-11, 7-8) cut the margin to nine in the first three minutes of the second half. Seton Hall cut a 52-33 deficit to 68-63 on Michael Nzei’s free throw with 1:46 left, but Ponds scored his last six — including a thundering dunk off a steal — down the stretch to seal it.

“We weathered the storm,” Mullin said. “Shamorie, Justin and Marvin played like .  .  . the veterans they are.”

Myles Powell had 26 points for Seton Hall, but the Pirates sabotaged themselves with 22 turnovers that led to 28 Storm points.

The win further solidified the Red Storm's place in the NCAA Tournament field, but they know they must follow high-profile wins like this with strong efforts against lesser teams such as Xavier on Thursday. They followed their win over  No. 17 Villanova last weekend with the Providence debacle.

“Where we’ve got to grow still is to win and go into the next game with the same mindset,” Clark said. “That’s the biggest focus for us right now, finishing the season strong and getting momentum into the Big East Tournament and into The Big Dance.”

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