Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA Today Sports
The St. John’s Red Storm came into MSG Last night with a sense of urgency after losing their last three games to finish out the regular season. The team’s urgency showed when they used a second-half surge to beat DePaul 82-74 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament tonight. The Johnnies had a balanced scoring attack with Justin Simon, Shamorie Ponds, and Mustapha Heron scoring 18 points apiece while Marvin Clark III added 10 and LJ Figueroa scored 14.
The three-game skid put them in this position to be the seventh seed and face a team that has beaten them twice. Not the place where the Johnnies wanted to start the tournament but they took it and handled their business anyway. One of the best things about facing a team for the third time is that you find out a way to shut down your opponents’ top scorer. The Red Storm did just that when they limited Max Strus to 14 points on 4/12 shooting. In the previous meeting, the Johnnies struggled to keep Strus in check as he exploded for 43 points. As Chris Mullin stared in the postgame press conference, the key was Big East Defensive player of the year, Justin Simon. “From my standpoint, it was to get Justin in the game” I just told him last game he had seven at halftime. Justin picked up a few fouls. When he came out, the guy got going. He’s that type of player it only takes a little bit for him to catch fire, and that’s what happened”.placeholder://
Simon’s presence in this game made a huge impact for the Johnnies on both ends but as Coach Mullin added it was a team effort.”I just thought again tonight that Justin was instrumental in setting the tone, and then Shamorie and the rest of our team did a good job. When he did catch he was looking at two, three, four bodies”.
The Johnnies have accomplished beating DePaul but their newest challenge awaits as they will face Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard tonight at 7 pm. The Red Storm was successful against Marquette during the regular season when they swept the Golden Eagles 2-0 in the season series. In both games, they defended Howard very well.
The Red Storm are well aware that beating Marquette for the third time will be an uphill battle, but at the same time, they remain confident. “It’s definitely an extra challenge, but I feel there is more confidence. I feel that those guys are going to bring their all, so we can’t lay down”. Says Shamorie Ponds the Brooklyn native has had some of his best games against the conference player of the year.
After avoiding a fourth straight loss, the Johnnies will move forward to face Marquette. It’s safe to say that this team is in the tournament. Now it’s time to make history get their first Big East tournament championship since 2000. “We packed for four days, so I’m looking forward to it,” says Ponds.