St. John’s blew out Nebraska for a 79-56 win at Carnesecca Arena on Thursday night. It was no upset, as the Red Storm were favored, but the way it happened may have surprised some. Chris Mullin’s team only hit five threes but out scored Nebraska 44-16 in the paint and grabbed 50 rebounds.
“Tonight was really the first time I really saw our defense not only alert, but our quickness, out athleticism really showed,” Mullin said.
Nebraska shot under 30 percent for the game and turned the ball over 16 times. It wasn’t just an inept offense. The St. John’s defense has looked more energized than at any point in Mullin’s tenure on the sidelines.
“Part of it is we work on it,” Mullin said. “It’s been an emphasis all summer. It’s something we talked about. It cost us games last year. And a lot of times I don’t think it was lack of effort. Sometimes it’s technique, sometimes, I know coaches hate to say it, sometimes it’s a bad bounce, sometimes the balls go over your head when you have your box out. I do think when you play better half-court defense, you’re aligned the right way and people know where you are and where you’re supposed to be, you’re more accountable.”
Increased practice time has been dedicated to half-court defense and rebounding. Mullin, always a great shooter, added, “I really don’t want to do it every day but we have to.”
There was offense as well. Shamorie Ponds scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had five assists. Bashir Ahmed scored 15 points, and Marcus LoVett scored 14. Justin Simon scored 13 points, hauled in 12 rebounds, blocked three shots and had four steals. “I thought we played so hard on defense we were a little jittery on offense,” Mullin said.
Even holding to Nebraska to 24 points in the first half and 56 in the game left room for improvement, according to LoVett. “I still think we could’ve even been more efficient defensively,” LoVett said. “Just being out of place sometimes, just having to adjust to the refs also.”
Another contributor was Tariq Owens, who came off the bench and blocked six shots. “Tariq is one of our most important players,” Mullin said. “The only reason I take him off the bench is because he can play any position.”
St. John’s passed its first test of the year against a team from a major conference. And they did it while shooting 44 percent. “I don’t know if we win a game like this last year,” Mullin said. “I don’t know that our defense was at that level. And I’m not quite sure it was there a week ago.”