Moments before Shamorie Ponds received the inbounds pass with St. John’s trailing by one point in the closing seconds of overtime on Tuesday night, he thought back a few years to another big game he’d played at Barclays Center.
Ponds was a junior at Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School when he suffered a heartbreaking last-second loss to rival Cardozo in the PSAL Championship game in 2014.
"So coming down to the last shot tonight, I kind of replayed it in my head how we lost at the Barclays, and I just wasn’t trying to go out like that,” he said.
Ponds’ coast-to-coast drive off the glass with 4.8 seconds remaining in overtime catapulted St. John’s to its second stirring comeback victory in as many nights. The rolling Red Storm improved to 5-0 on the season by outlasting Virginia Commonwealth, 87-86 in overtime, in the championship game of the Legends Classic.
“I’m just happy that we’re champs . . . It means a lot. It’s a step that we never took, getting off to a 5-0 start and winning a tournament,” said Ponds, who finished with a game-high 35 points, seven assists and seven steals in 44 minutes. “It’s great for us, but we can’t stop here. We’re not satisfied.”
Of course, St. John’s also won its first five non-conference games one year ago and was 10-2 entering Big East play. Mullin’s squad opened the conference slate with 11 consecutive losses, however, followed by consecutive out-of-nowhere upset victories in succession over No. 4 Duke at the Garden and No. 1 Villanova on the road in February.
St. John’s has a full week off before playing its next game Nov. 27 against Maryland-Eastern Shore at Carnesecca Arena.
“I’m not looking too far ahead, but I do know games like this brings a team together and builds trust,” Mullin said. “We can play better and I think we will get better.”
Ponds had netted 16 of his 32 points in the final 6:56 against Cal one night earlier to help erase a seven-point deficit, and St. John’s needed another strong finish from the Big East Preseason Player of the Year with VCU leading by as many as eight early in the second half.
Issac Vann (30 points) made two free throws with 10.9 seconds left in overtime to give VCU a one-point lead. But Ponds took the inbounds pass and raced the length of the court, banking home the go-ahead bucket from the left side of the lane to finish with a tournament record 67 points in two games, earning MVP honors.
“It was an incredibly tough shot, and he made a few in the second half. Really, the kind of shots only he can make,” Mullin said. “He put on a show.”
Notes & quotes: LJ Figueroa added 15 points and nine rebounds for St. John’s. Mustapha Heron was 2-for-12 from the field and finished with eight points before fouling out in overtime . . . Temple defeated Cal, 76-59, in the consolation game.