Justin Simon picked a heck of a time to show everyone why he was voted Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
“We don’t just shine, we illuminate the whole show, you feel me?” – Jay-Z
St. John’s, fighting for their NCAA Tournament hopes, needed a big-time performance to get back on track. They needed their big-time players to step up and do what is required of them. Their core guys needed to shine.
The Red Storm got the memo and came away with a huge 82-74 win over DePaul to advance in this year’s Big East Tournament. The win also helped ease any worries over potentially missing the NCAA Tournament. There’s a very good chance now the Johnnies will hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
In order for St. John’s to get back on the right side of the conversation for a possible at-large bid, they needed their core guys to help stop the pain from a crippling three-game losing streak. The skid threatened to undo everything which the Johnnies had worked for earlier in the season.
Simon, along with Shamorie Ponds, answered the bell for the Red Storm. While Ponds smoothly ran the offense, Simon showed the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden what a lockdown defender looks like.
Simon put the clamps on DePaul’s Max Strus, limiting him to 14 points on just 4-for-12 shooting from the field. It’s a sharp left turn from the 43-point performance Strus put on against the Johnnies in the regular season.
When Simon wasn’t giving Strus fits, he was all over the court for St. John’s. The 6-5 junior guard came away with two steals and two blocks to go along with his 18 points and six rebounds. When head coach Chris Mullin needed a big play or stop, Simon’s hustle helped set the tone for the rest of team.
“I just thought again tonight Justin was instrumental in setting the tone,” Mullin said afterwards about Simon’s performance against Strus. “And then Shamorie and the rest of our team did a good job. When he (Strus) did catch, he was looking at two, three, four bodies.”
And that’s where St. John’s is at their most dangerous. They were active on defense which allowed them to get out in transition. This kept DePaul off balance throughout the game, especially Strus and their other scoring threat Eli Cain.
“Yeah, I think they did a great job. They had a great game plan. They executed very well,” Strus said after the game. “He’s a good defender and shut me down today.”
Simon’s lockdown performance on defense was essential towards helping the Red Storm advance to the next round of the Big East Tournament. They’ll now face the No. 2 seed Marquette Golden Eagles, the winner advances to the semifinal round.
Marquette has Markus Howard, he’s as dangerous an offensive threat as there is in the nation. St, John’s, however, knows they go toe-to-toe with them.
The Red Storm had Marquette’s number in the regular season, they kept Howard in check and swept the season series. Simon’s defense was instrumental in helping keep Howard in check. Mullin knows how important a piece Simon is to the puzzle for this team.
“I think it shows up when you play against a guy like Shrus and Markus Howard and things like that,” Mullin said after knocking DePaul out of the tournament. “But he’s done stuff, you know, in games where maybe he didn’t shine as much. But he’s a typical lockdown defender. When you think of a long athletic guy that can run guys off screens, take away the catch and shoot, play guys off the dribble, play guys in the post. So, I mean it’s a well-deserved reward, and we rely on him a lot.”