High pressure came with the Storm on Saturday afternoon.
It was there early, when St. John’s was locked in a battle with Sacred Heart, and continued in the second half, when it was the catalyst for a surge that turned the battle into a rout.
St. John’s forced 25 turnovers in its 90-55 win at Carnesecca Arena in a non-conference men’s basketball game and outscored the visitors 54-21 in the second half. Shamorie Ponds led the Red Storm with 22 points and four of the team’s 15 steals, and Justin Simon and Marvin Clark added 14 points each. All five starters scored in double figures.
“I’ve been on our guys to pressure the backcourt,” said coach Chris Mullin, adding that it had the effect of creating energy for his own team as much as forcing turnovers. “If you apply pressure over time, you don’t have to steal the ball because the turnovers will come. We’re getting better at applying pressure but not gambling.”
The high turnover count was not hard to anticipate, as St. John’s (7-1) came in forcing 19.3 turnovers per game, tied for sixth nationally. Sacred Heart (3-5) came in averaging 19.0 turnovers, tied for the second most in the nation.
“We wanted to get them to turn the ball over,” said Simon, who had three steals. He added that the team knew of Sacred Heart’s weakness, so it afforded St. John’s a chance to work on new pressure schemes.
“We do that with every team, coming out with pressure,’’ he said, “but today we wanted to try something out and work on it and get better.”
Sacred Heart managed to keep the score close in the first half thanks to a hot start from three-point range (7-for-11, 63.6 percent).
The Pioneers went on a 10-2 run to tie the score at 34 with 1:30 left in the half before Clark’s layup with 38 seconds left gave the Red Storm a 36-34 lead at the break.
“They got a lot of second-chance rebounds and we were allowing [drives into] the middle too much,” Clark said. “They were getting a lot of kick-out threes from that and they were making them.”
Not surprisingly — given that the Pioneers entered the game shooting 25.4 percent from three-point range — Sacred Heart cooled off from deep in a big way, missing all 10 of its three-point attempts after halftime.
The Red Storm began the second half on a 15-2 run before extending its lead to 60-40 at the under-12 timeout.
“It all starts with defense,” Smith said. “The six games we won before were off defense, and I think we were defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second half.”
Midway through the second half, Tariq Owens caught an alley-oop pass from Simon with his left hand and scored while being dragged to the court by a Sacred Heart defender. It was the highlight of a strong second half by Owens, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds despite being held scoreless in the first half.
“I don’t know what happened at halftime. It wasn’t anything I said, I know that,” Mullin said of Owens. “He played a great second half.”
Notes & quotes: St. John’s was without starting guard and second-leading scorer Marcus LoVett, who Mullin said is “day-to-day” with a left knee sprain suffered in the previous game against Central Florida last Sunday. Mullin said there is no structural damage to his knee.