Playing without the services of Shamorie Ponds, the No. 24/23 St. John’s men’s basketball team failed to fend off DePaul on its home floor, dropping a 79-71 decision to the Blue Demons at Carnesecca Arena.
Trailing by just one at the half, St. John’s (14-3, 2-3 BIG EAST) saw the Blue Demons pull away on the other side of the break before a late Red Storm run cut the deficit to five with less than a minute to go. The two teams were tied at 39 with 14:30 to play before DePaul outscored the Red Storm 31-19 over the next 11 minutes.
Ponds, who failed to dress for the fourth time in his St. John’s career due to a strain in his lower back, ranked third in the BIG EAST with 20.6 points per game entering the weekend. He also topped the league in assists (6.0 per game) and steals (2.7 per game) while placing second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.9-to-1). Without Ponds controlling the offense, St. John’s lost the turnover battle for the first time this season, coughing up 11 possessions while forcing just nine DePaul turnovers.
Marvin Clark II registered the second double-double of his collegiate tenure, posting 14 points and a career-high 12 boards. The Michigan State transfer also recorded two steals.
LJ Figueroa sank nine of his 14 tries from the floor, including a 3-of-5 showing from three-point range, to finish with a team-high 23 points. The former junior college All-American also dished out three assists and grabbed three rebounds in 37 minutes.
Justin Simon netted a season-high 20 points after turning in a 10-of-16 effort from the field. He also tallied a game-high seven assists.
Mustapha Heron also finished in double figures with 11 points on the evening.
Long Island native Femi Olujobi poured in 27 points and corralled eight boards to lead the Blue Demons to their second-straight win. Paul Reed (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Max Strus (14 points, 12 rebounds) posted double-doubles for DePaul.
DePaul (10-5, 2-2 BIG EAST) attempted 28 free throws while the Red Storm recorded just six tries from the charity stripe on its home floor. On the game, fouls were 21-9 in favor of the Blue Demons.
Ahead 12-10 following a Simon jumper with 13:37 to go in the opening stanza, DePaul scored five unanswered to take a seven-point lead, its largest lead of the half, with just under 12 minutes to play in the period.
Trailing by that same seven-point margin, 21-14, two minutes later, the Johnnies kept the Blue Demons off the board for the next 4:18, rattling off an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game, 22-21, on a Simon drive with 5:45 to play in the period.
Down one, 31-30, at the break, St. John’s reclaimed the lead on the opening possession of the second half thanks to a Heron jumper.
With the game tied at 39 five minutes later, DePaul unleashed a 13-4 run to take its largest lead of the game to that point, 52-43, with just over 10 minutes to play in regulation.
Trailing 58-49 with 8:20 to go, Clark ripped off five-straight points to cut the lead to four and force a DePaul timeout. The Blue Demons then outscored the Johnnies 12-4 over the next four minutes to take its largest lead of the contest, 70-58, with 3:30 to play.
The Red Storm returns to action on Wednesday night, playing host to Creighton at 6:30 p.m. on FS1 and 970 AM WNYM.
ST. JOHN’S HONORS SOLLY WALKER
Prior to the game, St. John’s honored the legacy of the late great Solly Walker by renaming the athletic department’s academic study hall in his memory. Walker, the first African-American to suit up for the Red Storm, played a key role on St. John’s teams that reached the 1952 Final Four and the championship game of the 1953 NIT. After graduation, Walker embarked on a long and successful career in education, dedicating decades of his life as a teacher and principal in the New York City public school system. An unmatched ambassador for St. John’s University throughout his life, Walker, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 85, always took a particular interest in the academic accomplishment of Red Storm student-athletes.
The University also celebrated the creation of the Solly Walker Academic Support Services Fund, developed and funded by the Shannon Family and dedicated to providing financial support for the continued success of St. John’s student-athletes on and off the fields of competition.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin, Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon spoke to the media after Saturday’s loss to DePaul, 79-71.
Jan. 12, 2019
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin
On Shamorie Ponds injury…
“Day to day with a lower back strain.”
On finding out Ponds would be out…
“I found out today. Obviously he is a great player, so without him, we approach things a little differently. Anytime you take your best player off the team, it has an effect. We came out and we played okay. A little passive, I thought, but overall, in the second half, we picked up our energy. We just need to play through.”
On role adjustments…
“A lot of times when you run a play that breaks down, it really gets down to being aggressive and driving the ball. I thought we did a good job of that. It doesn’t show in the stats sheet, but we were driving the ball, trying to make plays and it just didn’t work out tonight.”
On team’s execution…
“I think we played the post, the last seven to eight minutes, pretty well. You need to hold your ground. They can’t back you down to the basket. You hold your ground. [Femi Olujobi] had some size on him. Sedee [Keita] could handle him. … You just need to hold your ground. That’s part of any competition. I thought we did a little better job of that. I think too much easy positions and then I believe, with 15 minutes left in the game, the fouls took a little aggression away. To me, you need to carve out your space, hold your ground and deal with the ramifications whatever that may be. We will do a much better job from here on out of doing just that, and if that’s illegal, so be it. You can read a stat sheet. You can digest that.”
On taking the blame for tonight’s loss…
“Totally on me. 100 percent. Everything that happens is on me. I got it but I am not embarrassed. I’ll be back here, take a day off and then be back.”
On bouncing back after the team’s first back-to-back losses of the season…
“I feel bad about this loss and I am going to prepare for the next game. I don’t really care about what happened two days ago. We will move past this, no question. We always do.”
On being outrebounded…
“We are really concerned about defensive rebounding and we gave up 14 offensive rebounds. A big focus is transition defense. When you crash the offensive boards, you have bad transition defense. If you play small, you want to get back on defense, not crash the boards. San Antonio [Spurs] probably has the best transition defense in the world. They do not crash the offensive boards. So yes, we like to get back on defense and not give up transition baskets. When my guys are open, they are free to shoot open shots and then get back on defense, not crash the boards and have a bad defensive transition possession. That’s our policy. Thank you for the question.”
On if the team was mentally prepared to play without Shamorie Ponds…
“I actually think they were looking forward to it. Going out there and just winning a ball game. We have dealt with that before. It is a part of the game. Guys get hurt and you have to move on. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
Senior forward Marvin Clark II
On playing without Shamorie Ponds…
“We knew all along that he was not going to be playing. Of course it changes some things, but we have a pretty talented team, so it really doesn’t change too much. I shot 6 of 16 tonight. We didn’t get a lot of things to go in from beyond the arc. That’s the result.”
On team approach without Shamorie Ponds…
“No, we were ready to play. We felt good going into the game. We felt good with our game plan. We gave them too many extra positions and you can’t win games that way.”
On bouncing back against Creighton…
“I’m very confident. This is just a bump in the road. We have a lot of guys that can handle adversity, especially us two [alongside Justin Simon] up here. We’ve been through a losing streak, so we know what adversity is. We are confident in our abilities and we will be prepared and ready for the next game. We just need to go into our locker room, talk to our guys and get ready for these next couple of days of preparation.”
Redshirt Junior Guard Justin Simon
On handling the ball and running the offense…
“Tonight, I think Shamorie [Ponds] being out, offensively, didn’t hurt as much. He is a great scorer, I just think it was all on the defensive end tonight.”
On the size differential faced tonight…
“I thought our post defense was not good tonight, they got whatever looks they wanted down there and they also got offensive rebounds. We just didn’t box out, didn’t rebound and they punched us in the post.”
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