The Red Storm held off a late Georgetown rally for an 86-80 win at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon. It was the third straight win at the World’s Most Famous Arena for St. John’s.
“I think these guys feed off the crowd, for sure,” said head coach Chris Mullin. “They’re very comfortable playing here now. It wasn’t always the case. I thought our first few games here they were not and now they are.”
Mullin is correct about that not always being the case. St. John’s lost their first three games at MSG this season and didn’t look very good in any of the three games. There was a blowout loss to Penn State in which the Nittany Lions ended the first half on a 35-5 run. There was a sloppy, double-digit loss to Villanova. And then an ugly foul-fest against Xavier which St. John’s lost by five.
But while the losses on the road mount, the team has found some confidence in Manhattan. They had one of their best showings of the year in an 86-72 win over Marquette. They made up for an ugly loss at Seton Hall with an inspired win earlier in February. And today they beat a Georgetown team that beat them by 28 earlier in the year.
“People can say what they want. There is a transition from playing anywhere and playing at Madison Square Garden,” Mullin said. “But for us it’s more important because we play so many games here. So I think everyone is really comfortable playing here, so that’s a big advantage for us.”
Shamorie Ponds led the way with 24 points, while Bashir Ahmed and Federico Mussini added 16 apiece. St. John’s went on a 17-0 run in the first half although the Hoyas answered back with a 17-0 run of their own. Georgetown still led 36-35 at halftime but the Red Storm took back the lead in the first minute of the second half and didn’t relinquish it.
For a team that has had it’s share of blowout losses it’s progress to see a close win in a rivalry game. “As the games go by, further and further, even the wins and losses, I feel like we’re just coming together as a team,” Ponds said. “We’re more like a unit now.”
St. John’s has one road game remaining, at Creighton. They’ve had trouble matching the intensity of opponents on the road, giving up at least 90 points in each of the last three road losses, including a whopping 110 against Butler. “We just need to translate this mindset, this atmosphere in the away games, too,” Mussini said.
St. John’s is better than they were last year but to keep making strides they’ll need to play better away from Madison Square Garden.
“To be a good team, the first thing you gotta do is protect home court and to be above average you win on the road,” Mullin said. “We’re making a step towards playing well at home and the sooner we do that on the road, that’ll be the next step.”