St. John’s improved to 2-0 with an 80-55 win over Central Connecticut State at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday night.
While the story of the first win was the three-point shot, St. John’s did it at the defensive end and won the rebounding battle on Tuesday.
CCSU turned the ball over 21 times, a good sign for a Red Storm team that struggled to keep opponents under 80 points last season. “It’s something that we’ve worked hard on in the offseason,” said Chris Mullin. “Part of that is conditioning, because to play defense you gotta be fit. We ask our guys to get up in the backcourt and pretty much pressure the ball. We don’t want to gamble but we want to be pressuring the ball all night and wear them down.” The head coach noted that Marcus LoVett, Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon have had success with the pressure defense.
“It’s something we worked on, we’re good at now, we can get better at it,” Mullin said.
Shamorie Ponds scored a game-high 21 points and just missed a double-double with mind rebounds. The sophomore guard also had three steals. “Coaches preach ‘pressure the ball, pressure the ball’, so we try to stay on them 94 feet, the front end and the back end and just put as much pressure on them as we can,” Ponds said.
Justin Simon also had three steals to go along with his 12 points and 11 rebounds.
And after being out rebounded 42-27 by New Orleans in the season opener, St. John’s won the battle on the boards by a 38-29 margin against CCSU. Simon collected 11 rebounds, and Ponds hauled in nine.
“Again, we have to do it as a group, so who gets them is not that important, but we’ve got to go get them,” Mullin said.
It was a pair of guards, Simon and Ponds, combining for 20 rebounds. “I’ve asked them to get into the paint if there guy’s not underneath the basket and they’re not boxing out, get in the paint and help the bigs on the loose balls and the ones that come over their heads and things like that,” Mullin said.
CCSU only trailed 21-17 before the Red Storm went on a 20-2 run late in the first half. The underdogs were still in the game trailing 58-46 before the Johnnies went on a 16-0 run.
Now St. John’s turns its attention to Big 10 opponent Nebraska in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. “We know the schedule ahead of time, it’s all laid out,” said Mullin, later adding, “I’m excited. It’s a great test.”
After Nebraska and Molloy come to Carnesecca Arena, St. John’s will go to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational. “I feel like we’re confident enough in ourself and our ability with the coaching staff preaching, so I feel like this team is pretty much ready for the big games, the big teams, and I feel like we can go out there and get it done.”
They’ll certainly have a chance if the defensive effort is there.