Off to its second 5-0 start in as many seasons, the St. John’s men’s basketball team will look to continue its winning ways when it hosts Maryland Eastern Shore on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on FS1 and 970 AM WNYM. Brian Custer and Jim Spanarkel will call the game on television, while John Minko and Brandon Tierney will bring you the action live over the airways.
The Red Storm enters its first home game in more than two weeks on a high note, having recently claimed the Legends Classic title at Barclays Center. Brooklyn native Shamorie Ponds led the way for the Johnnies in their first championship at an early-season tournament since the 2010 Great Alaska Shootout, averaging 33.5 points, 6.0 assists, 4.0 steals and 3.0 rebounds per game en route to earning MVP honors. After scoring 16 of his 32 points in the final seven minutes of Monday’s opening win over California, Ponds exploded for a season-high 35 points in the team’s victory against VCU the following day. Ponds scored 25 of his 35 points after halftime, netted the Red Storm’s final six points of the contest and swiped a career-high seven steals. Ponds, who currently ranks sixth in the nation with 3.0 steals per game, became just the ninth player in program history and the first since Sir’Dominic Pointer in 2014 to record seven or more thefts in a single outing.
For his efforts, Ponds was named the BIG EAST Player of the Week on Monday for the third time in his career. The BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year was not without competition, as Creighton, Villanova and Seton Hall also claimed titles at their respective early-season tournaments behind strong individual performances.
The Red Storm will also look to sustain production from a talented pair of St. John’s newcomers in Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa. Heron, a Second Team All-SEC selection at Auburn last season, failed to reach double figures for the first time as a member of the Johnnies against VCU, but still ranks second on the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game. Figueroa, a former NJCAA Division I All-American at Odessa College, earned a spot on the Legends Classic All-Tournament Team after posting 15 points and nine rebounds in the Red Storm’s title-clinching victory over the Rams.
A win over the Hawks on Tuesday would match the best start for the Red Storm since the 2009-10 Johnnies went 6-0 before falling on the road to No. 6 Duke in early December. The last time a St. John’s team won more than six-straight decisions to begin a campaign came all the way back in 1994-95, when the Red Storm rattled off seven in a row behind 17.6 points per game from freshman sensation Felipe Lopez.
Last season, the Red Storm ranked ninth in the BIG EAST in offensive production at season’s end with 73.1 points per game. In the early going of 2018-19, the Johnnies are pacing the conference in that category with 82.6 points per game. The aforementioned 1994-95 squad was the last St. John’s team to find the bottom of the net more often through five games, averaging 85.0 points per contest in wins over Dartmouth, Bowling Green, Coppin State, Niagara and Pittsburgh.
UMES (1-5) comes to Queens looking for its first Division I win of the season after defeating Central Pennsylvania College of the USCAA on Saturday. The Hawks feature two players averaging double figures on the year, as AJ Cheeseman paces the team with 14.2 points per game while Ryan Andino chips in 11.5 per contest.
St. John’s will be the second BIG EAST team that the Hawks square off with this season, as Georgetown topped UMES, 68-53, in the season opener for both teams on Nov. 6. Cheeseman tallied a game-high 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting against the Hoyas in that meeting.
After squaring off with UMES, St. John’s will leave the New York Metropolitan Area for the first time this season, traveling to the Sunshine State for a the Hoophall Miami Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Red Storm will square off with ACC foe Georgia Tech on ESPNU and 570 AM WMCA beginning at 12 p.m.
Chris Mullin, Shamorie Ponds, and Mustapha Heron addressed the media before Tuesday’s game against Maryland-Eastern Shore
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin
On the team:
“We have a lot of new faces. We’ve got a different roster and we’re still coming together, getting familiar with each other. We have a long way to go but have had a good little start.”
On Shamorie Ponds not being satisfied with his start:
“Sports are about what you do today and we have this big vision in what we want to do but we have to do it every day. Shamorie has come back with a really good attitude and is doing what we need him to do on a given night. It’s good for us as a team and good for him, for his future. He needs to understand when to score, when to pass, play defense, box out, and he’s doing all the little things that don’t appear on the stat sheet, and it’s nice when his stats do shine, but he has to both.”
On what Mustapha Heron brings to the team:
“His experience, strength as alayer, maturity, [grit], he’s one of those guys that over time after playing with these new players, he will keep getting better. He’s already had two big scoring nights. What he has as far as experience and skill are things you can’t teach.”
On the team’s maturity:
“I think with Shamorie [Ponds], Justin [Simon] Marvin [Clark II], and Mustapha [Heron], it’s a team that has players that can lead. There’s a whole group of young players who are trying to find their way, and we have four guys that can lead their teammates.”
On Shamorie Ponds’ performance at the Legends Classic:
“He did what was needed. We had a blueprint of what we wanted to do, but the game dictates what you need to do. He’s got a well-rounded game that he can do what’s needed and I think he’s done that.”
On Shamorie Ponds “not playing his best”:
“At 20 years old, I hope his best is yet to come. That’s what maturity and growth is all about; not saying it, doing it.”
On recruiting transfers and junior college players:
“Historically, I think those numbers have increased in the last 10 years. There is a huge advantage physically for sure and, hopefully, maturity wise. I think it’s a clear advantage to have a guy with experience and physical maturity.”
St. John’s junior guard Shamorie Ponds
On winning BIG EAST Player of the Week:
“It’s definitely a blessing. I’m just happy that we won those two games. It was a big turning point for us. Unfortunately we have further to go so we can’t be content with where we are at now.”
On the team’s character and determination to win close games:
“[Winning close games] definitely builds character. These are games we need to win before heading into a tough BIG EAST conference.”
On the difference of this year’s 5-0 team compared to last year:
“This team is more mature. We’re more together like a family. Last year we had moments when we came together, but this year’s team, I think our identity is more together. We’re just trying to stay level-headed. We know how it turned out last year and we’re not trying to make the same mistake.”
On Mustapha Heron:
“I think he’s definitely comfortable. He knows what he brings to the team, offensively and defensively. He’s been a positive on both sides of the ball. He can do it all. He’s a great piece to have when you need it.”
On his start to the season:
“A 5-0 start is a great way to start. Individually I think I got off to an OK start, but I can’t be content. I have to shoot the ball better. Personally, I haven’t played my best yet. I feel like I haven’t shot it well from three yet. I still have a low three-point percentage but that’s going to change.”
On the expectations he’s set for himself:
“Just to win. Winning is the main key. With this team, I think we can go pretty far. The farther you get, the better you play. Coming into this year with this team, we felt that making the NCAA tournament was one of our goals. We can’t just want to make it there. We have to want to win it all.”
St. John’s junior guard Mustapha Heron
On his thoughts on the season so far:
“I think it’s been going pretty good. We’re 5-0 right now. Just hoping to win as many games as possible.”
On how he feels:
“I feel good. I feel like I’m trying to grow every game, as a leader, as a teammate.”
On the good start:
“I feel pretty good. We’re getting wins, you know 5-0 right now so we’re just trying to take it one game at a time and just get better.”
On his consistency through the first part of the season:
“I think that’s just how basketball is. You have good games, you have bad games. You have to learn and grow with each one.”
On how he thinks the team could improve:
“I think communication, talking with each other, talking through each play and just listening to the scouting reports and listening to what coach is saying.”
On what he has liked so far throughout the season:
“We’ve played hard. We play together. I think we play for each other and I think there’s definitely been some unselfish basketball going on.”
On the transition to St. John’s:
“There wasn’t really too much of an adjustment. Just coming in playing basketball, playing hard, playing unselfish.”
On his mindset before he was granted his hardship waiver:
“I just practiced as if I was playing already from June when I came in here so it wasn’t too much of a transition. I was used to the guys, the guys were used to me so it wasn’t too much of a transition.”
On the difference of being close to home
“It makes a huge difference. My family gets to come and see me. The support is great. Just being able to go down, being an hour and 30 minutes down the road is huge. I had a good Thanksgiving with [my mom].”
On what he has learned since coming to St. John’s:
“I just learned I had great leadership capabilities and I’m just somebody who can go out there and put their body on the line every single night.”
On last year’s 5-0 start compared to this one:
“It’s definitely something that we talk about. Not having a repeat of last year where they were 10-2 going into BIG EAST play and they kind of dropped off so we’re definitely just taking it one game at a time and trying to learn and grow every game.”
On whom he has leaned on since coming to St. John’s:
“I lean on everybody. We all lean on each other and we got a team of either, I mean, Shamorie is the only person that is in his third year here. Everybody else is in their first or second year so we have to lean on each other.”
On what the close wins have taught this team:
“That we can fight, that we play hard. We’re gritty so that’s something I think we can carry through the rest of the season with us.”
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