Shamorie Ponds’ return to the St. John’s lineup on Wednesday night brought some serious voltage to the Red Storm and it played with such energy against Creighton, Carnesecca Arena might just have glowed.
The star junior guard was out with a muscle strain in his lower back on Saturday and the impact was felt as St. John’s dropped the home game to DePaul. But he was able to practice on Tuesday and his play — 22 points and five assists without a turnover — charged up the Red Storm as it dropped the Blue jays in an 81-66 Big East win before a sellout crowd of 5,602.
Ponds was very quiet in the first 12 minutes, missing all of his four shots as the Storm fell back by eight. He explained that he was trying not to let the emotion of coming back and trying to snap a two-game losing streak lead him to force anything. But during a timeout with 7:48 left in the half, Ponds said, coach Chris Mullin “told me ‘it’s time to go.’”
And did he ever. Ponds sank his first shot after the timeout and later the sparks really flew. In a three-possession burst, he made a three-pointer, a driving layup and another three-pointer and those eight points sent St. John’s on an 18-3 run for a 37-31 lead.
The Storm (15-3, 3-3) led 39-34 at halftime and never trailed in the second half as Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa made many of the biggest plays to seal the win.
“[We] definitely had to get a bounce back win,” Ponds said. “We lost one at home – that was our goal, not to lose any games and protect the house – but we had a great bounce-back. It was much-needed.”
And that emotion Ponds was keeping in check early? It spilled out late as he and Creighton’s Davion Mintz got nose-to-nose with 4:38 to play and their pushing resulted in a double-technical.
It feels like St. John’s has righted things going into perhaps its toughest stretch of the season. Four of the next five games are on the road — at Butler, Creighton, Duke and Marquette — with the only home game against Georgetown at the Garden.
Heron had 18 points — all in the second half after encountering early foul trouble — and became a weapon in the low post for the Storm. Figueroa had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Justin Simon had 16 points, six rebounds and four steals. Marcus Zegarowski’s 17 points paced Creighton (10-8, 1-4), which is on a four-game skid.
“We had Shamorie in check for a while,” Bluejays coach Gregg McDermott said. “Then he got loose and we just couldn’t stop him.”
Mullin said that in a morning conversation with St. John’s Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca, he was told ‘the only piece of advice for you is make sure Shamorie plays.’ “Shamorie is one of the best players in the country,” Mullin added. “[It’s a] huge difference with him in the lineup.”
The knockout punch came late. Heron was posting up Bluejays defenders and rolling in for layups and then on consecutive possessions with just under seven minutes left Figueroa sank a putback and then Ponds stole the inbounds pass, missed a three-pointer and Figueroa put that back too to make it 64-53. It was pandemonium at Carnesecca.
“The whole crowd feels it, the whole building feels it,” Figueroa said. “It’s like the way we’re supposed to be playing and that’s the way we’re going to keep playing.”
Ponds said he will have to manage the back, but that he believes he can get it to 100 percent as the season goes on. Mullin said the plan isn’t complicated.
“If he doesn’t feel good, he won’t play,” he said. “If he feels good, he’ll play. Medically, he’s OK.”