UNCASVILLE, CT- St. John’s pulled out a 77-73 win over St. Joseph’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena on Wednesday afternoon.
The Red Storm trailed by eight early in the second half after the Hawks went on a 15-2 run, but the Johnnies came back to improve to 10-2.
It has been a nomadic existence for a Red Storm team that played its sixth straight game in a different arena. “That’s a big reason why I came to St. John’s,” Justin Simon said after the win. Simon was one assist shy of a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. “Just playing on a big stage, different arenas, it’s been amazing.”
In late November, St. John’s beat UCF in the AdvoCare Invitational at HP Field House in Orlando. Then came a win against Sacred Heart on campus at Carnesecca Arena. A win over Grand Canyon in the Valley of the Sun Shootout at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. A loss to Arizona State at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A win over Iona in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. And then Wednesday’s triumph at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
“I agree with that Justin said,” Shamorie Ponds said. The sophomore guard scored a game-high 28 points. “That’s what I came here for. Just us going to other arenas, getting it done, it shows us how close we are.”
As a coach, Chris Mullin is not concerned with where the games are played, noting that it doesn’t change what he does on the sidelines. “Not from a coaching standpoint,” Mullin said. “The players have to go out there and play. I think they enjoy it. I think it’s good preparation. We’re going to have a lot of tough road games coming up.”
Both teams came out firing, with St. John’s leading 9-8 less than two minutes into the game. A back and forth first half saw the Red Storm take a 44-41 lead into the locker room.
St. John’s scored the first two points of the second half before the Hawks went on a 15-2 run. St. Joseph’s eight point lead was the largest for either team. But the Johnnies responded in a game that saw eight ties and 10 lead changes. “We’ve got a real close group,” Simon said. “A real close group this year. We don’t get down on ourselves, we encourage each other. We’ve got a great coaching staff that keeps us ready for adversity.”
The Hawks entered the game with the second fewest turnovers per game in the NCAA but turned the ball over 19 times on Wednesday. St. John’s blocked eight shots, including five by Tariq Owens. The Red Storm hit 18 free throws while the Hawks only went six for 10 at the charity stripe.
Winning 10 of the first 12 games could have a team (and fans) looking ahead and trying to figure out how many wins in conference it would take to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. But Mullin is making sure the focus of the team is simply for next week’s game against Providence. “I think that’s the best thing they picked up from me, is that I don’t look too far ahead except for the next practice,” Mullin said. “And we try to prepare for what we think’s going to help us win the next game.”