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St. John’s to Open NCAA Tournament Action against Arizona State

 The St. John’s men’s basketball team will kick off the 2019 NCAA Tournament on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, taking on Arizona State in the First Four at UD Arena.

The contest will be broadcast live on truTV with tip-off tentatively scheduled for 9:10 p.m.  and Spero Dedes, Jim Jackson, Steven Smith and Ros Gold-Onwude on the call.  John Minko and Brandon Tierney will narrate the action live from UD Arena on 970 AM WNYM.  The audio broadcast will also be available through TuneIn and RedStormSports.com.

The winner of Wednesday’s game between the Red Storm and Sun Devils will earn the right to play the no. 6 seed in the West Bracket, MAC Champion Buffalo, on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.

Entering the Big Dance with a record of 21-12, St. John’s is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance under the direction of Head Coach Chris Mullin, who played in four NCAA Tournaments from 1981-85, including a berth in the 1985 Final Four in Lexington, Ky.  The Red Storm is making its third March Madness appearance of the last decade, as the team also received bids in 2011 and 2015.

The Johnnies earned their place in the field of 68 thanks in part to the team’s record against top-tier opposition.  St. John’s compiled 10 Quad One and Two wins, including a 5-7 record in Quad One opportunities.  Highlighting the Red Storm’s resume were two wins over Marquette, a victory over BIG EAST Champion Villanova at Madison Square Garden and a neutral site triumph over VCU in the championship game of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn.

The Red Storm’s 21 wins are tied for the most by a St. John’s team since 2000, when the Johnnies won 25 games, captured their last BIG EAST Tournament crown and earned a no. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  That season also marked the last time the Red Storm won a game in the Big Dance.

St. John’s is making its 29th appearance all-time in the NCAA Tournament, a total that is tied for 24th in the history of Division I.  In reality, the Johnnies have been to 30 tournaments, but the program’s 2002 berth was later vacated.  The Red Storm boasts a 27-30 record in the NCAA Tournament dating back to 1951, has advanced to nine Sweet 16s, participated in six Elite Eights and advanced to the Final Four twice.

The Red Storm enters the NCAA Tournament led by Shamorie Ponds, who became just the fifth player in program history to earn consecutive First All-BIG EAST selections in 2019.  Mullin, Mark Jackson, Malik Sealy and Marcus Hatten are the only other Johnnies to have twice earned a spot on the conference’s top squad.  Ponds ranks third in the BIG EAST in scoring average (19.5 ppg) while placing second in the league with 5.2 assists per game.  He became just the third BIG EAST player since conference realignment to finish in the top three in both those categories, joining Providence’s Bryce Cotton in 2013-14 and Seton Hall Isaiah Whitehead in 2015-16.  The Brooklyn native also leads the league in a pair of categories, swiping 2.6 steals per game while turning in an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6-to-1.  His steal average ranks ninth nationally and his assist-to-turnover ratio is good enough for 37th in all of Division I.

Ponds is one of two members of the Red Storm to receive recognition from the BIG EAST’s coaches, as Justin Simon became the third player in program history to earn BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year honors.  Simon garnered his honor after locking down the opponent’s top scorer for most of the year, including a pair of stellar defensive outings against Marquette’s Markus Howard during the regular season.  Simon helped limit the BIG EAST Player of the Year, who is averaging 25.0 points per game this season, to just 25 points in two matchups.

Arizona State, one of two Pac-12 teams to receive an at-large bid, heads to Dayton with a record of 22-10 after falling in overtime to eventual conference champion Oregon.  The Sun Devils went 12-6 during the Pac-12 regular season, finishing second in the league standings behind Washington.

Under the direction of Bobby Hurley, the Sun Devils are led offensively by freshman guard Luguentz Dort, who is averaging 16.4 points per game.

Arizona State ranks among the best teams in the nation on the boards after finishing second in the Pac-12 with a +4.8 rebounding margin.  Redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham, a San Diego State transfer, averages 11.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, the latter of which ranks 14th in the nation.

St. John’s and the Sun Devils shared a pair of common opponents during the regular season in Princeton and California.  The Red Storm topped the Tigers during the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival while Princeton scored an upset victory in Tempe on Dec. 29.  St. John’s picked up a victory over Pac-12 foe Cal in the opening game of the Legends Classic while Arizona State swept the Golden Bears during league play.

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