After enduring a quiet first half that briefly left Carnesecca Arena in stunned silence, Shamorie Ponds spent a significant chunk of the second session on the bench.
The Big East Preseason Player of the Year’s knees were aching, and St. John’s — just as painfully — was losing by double digits to unheralded Bowling Green.
But transfers Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa picked up the scoring slack, the Red Storm picked it up mightily on the defensive end, and Ponds came back to net 16 of his 21 points in the final 9:30 to lift St. John’s to a tougher-than-expected 84-80 victory Friday night.
“We kind of played like three different ways tonight,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “We got off to a really nice start, the ball was moving . . . but then the ball started sticking, and it started going, quite frankly, a little selfishly.
“But it jelled back together and I thought we did a nice job of regrouping and playing our way and grounded out a tough win. Everyone chipped in and Shamorie made some big baskets after being out of the game for a little while.”
Bowling Green (1-1) was picked to finish last in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference in the preseason, but the Falcons shot 51.7 percent from the floor to carry a 39-37 lead into intermission.
Ponds scored only five points before halftime, and the junior guard was pulled from the game when Mullin called a quick timeout after Bowling Green extended its lead to nine just 1:45 into the second half.
Ponds, who averaged 21.6 points last season, sat for more than seven minutes while his teammates chipped away at a deficit that ballooned to 11. Ponds returned with 10:51 remaining and drained a left-side three-pointer before Figueroa (11 points off the bench) converted a reverse layup and free throw to give St. John’s a 60-58 lead less than two minutes later.
“I just had a little minor knee issue. It’s a mental thing.” Ponds said. “I was just trying to not think about it and go out there and play for my team.”
“The first thing is physically if you can’t move, you can’t play,” Mullin said. “He took a little time and said he was able to go. I thought he came back and had a little pop and made some big baskets.”
As did Heron, who finished with 26 points. The junior transfer from Auburn missed three of four free throws in the final 19 seconds, but he also stole an inbounds pass with 1.7 seconds left and sank his final two free throws to seal the Red Storm’s second straight win to open the season.
“A win like this I think will serve us well in the future,” Mullin said. “Everyone did a little something. No one played really well all night, but they had their little spurts. Having that depth helps.