Nationally ranked for the first time in four years, the No. 24/23 St. John’s Red Storm will face another early conference test on Tuesday night, traveling to Villanova for a showdown with the defending national champions.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on FS1 with Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery on the call from the newly renovated Finneran Pavilion. 970 AM WNYM will carry the game over the airwaves in the New York Metropolitan Area with John Minko and Tarik Turner delivering the action from the sidelines in The City of Brotherly Love.
With a record of 14-1 on the year and fresh off consecutive victories over No. 16 Marquette and Georgetown, St. John’s earned its first national ranking since 2015 on Monday afternoon, checking in at no. 24 in the Associated Press Poll and no. 23 in the USA Today Sports Coaches Poll. St. John’s was ranked for five weeks in 2014-15 before falling out after an 0-3 start to BIG EAST play. That year, the Johnnies went on to win 21 games and make the program’s 28th NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Red Storm’s 14-1 start matches the best in program history since 1985-86, when National Player of the Year Walter Berry led the Johnnies to 31 wins and their second BIG EAST Championship in four seasons. A win against the Wildcats on Tuesday night would give the Red Storm its best start to a campaign since 1982-83, when sophomore and eventual BIG EAST Player of the Year Chris Mullin led the Johnnies to 18 wins in their first 19 contests.
A victory over Villanova would also mark the first 3-1 opening to conference play for the Red Storm since 2010-11, a year that saw the Johnnies go 12-6 in BIG EAST action and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Storm impressed in both of its victories this past week, blowing past nationally ranked Marquette by 20 at home before picking up its first road win over Georgetown since 2003, snapping a 13-game skid against the Hoyas in the nation’s capital. All five starters finished in double figures in both of the Johnnies’ victories, but none shined quite as bright as Shamorie Ponds. After scoring 20 of his game-high 26 points in the first half to set the tone against Marquette, Ponds exploded for 37 points against Georgetown on 11-of-21 shooting, including a 6-for-10 showing from three-point range. For his efforts, Ponds was rewarded with his second BIG EAST Player of the Week accolade and was named the national player of the week by NCAA.com’s Andy Katz. In addition to his scoring prowess, Ponds, who cracked the 30-point plateau for the 10th time in his collegiate career, also averaged 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game during the Red Storm’s 2-0 week.
While Ponds has captured a majority of the team’s headlines, the Red Storm can attribute much of its recent success to a series of well-balanced efforts. Five players have finished in double figures for the Red Storm five times in the team’s last eight games and all five everyday starters are currently averaging 10 or more points on the season. Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa each missed a double-double by one rebound on Saturday while Figueroa also set career-highs for steals (6) and assists (5). Mustapha Heron, the team’s second leading scorer, added 12 while Marvin Clark II chipped in 11 thanks to three triples.
Villanova (11-4, 2-0 BIG EAST) enters Tuesday’s nights contest having won three-straight games. After closing out their non-conference slate with a win over former BIG EAST foe Connecticut at Madison Square Garden, the Wildcats opened conference action with a win over DePaul at home before outlasting the Friars in Providence on Saturday afternoon.
Winner of two of the last three national championships, Villanova returns a pair of starters from last season. Phil Booth paces the Wildcats with 17.3 points per game to go along with a team-high 3.5 assists while Eric Paschall pours in 15.7 points and pulls down 6.2 boards per outing.
In the last meeting between the two teams on Feb. 7, 2018, the Red Storm shocked the college basketball world for the second time in just a matter of days. Fresh off a win over No. 4 Duke at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 3, the Johnnies traveled to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the top-ranked Wildcats. Led by 26 points from Ponds, the Johnnies knocked off the no. 1 team in the country for the first time since Mullin’s senior year in 1984-85. Simon registered a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double in that victory while Clark added 15 points and six rebounds, including a three-point play and a pair of free throws to help ice the game in the final minute and a half.
When the Johnnies take the floor at Finneran Pavilion on Tuesday night, it will mark the team’s first game on campus at Villanova since Jan. 2, 2013. Despite receiving a career-high 36 points from D’Angelo Harrison, the Red Storm fell in overtime, 98-86, in that showing. St. John’s has not registered a victory on campus against Villanova since Jan. 2, 1992, a streak of 10-straight losses. Senior forward Malik Sealy scored 26 points to lead the way for St. John’s during its last win at The Pavilion.
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