Crisis averted for St. John’s, they can start thinking about the NCAA Tournament again.
The Red Storm walked into Madison Square Garden, Wednesday night, fully aware of the task at hand. A loss in the opening round of this year’s Big East Tournament likely would put an end to any plans for hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.
St. John’s, in front of a sellout crowd on their home court, went out and took care of business. Shamorie Ponds scored 18 points, and added seven assists to lead the Red Storm to an 82-74 win over DePaul.
Seventh-seeded St. John’s will now move on to face No. 2 seed Marquette in the quarterfinal round, Thursday night at the Garden.
There’s no debating the fact St. John’s put themselves in a must-win situation on the first night of their conference tournament. They finished the regular season with three straight losses. The skid was a major self-inflicted body blow to their resume for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
If the Johnnies were going to right their wrongs they needed to get back to what works for them. And that starts with Ponds and the team’s ability to get out in transition. Where St. John’s lacks in size, they more than make up with their legs and hustle. When the ball moves for them, good things happen. St. John’s outscored DePaul, 15-9, on the fast break.
Justin Simon, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, was all over the place for the Red Storm. Simon had two steals and two blocks to go along with his 18 points and six rebounds. He also bottled up DePaul’s Max Strus, the same player which lit the Johnnies up in the regular season with a 43-point game. Strus was limited to 14 points on just 4-for-12 shooting from the field.
St. John’s found their groove early and were able to control the pace just enough in the second half to keep DePaul a step behind before eventually pulling away. The win was also notable because the Blue Demons had won both regular season battles. When it mattered most, however, Ponds and St. John’s reminded everyone why they’re so dangerous.
“Definitely important for is,” said Ponds afterwards. “I felt like this group we could do something special. We are definitely, definitely looking forward to each and every game. We packed for four days, so we’re looking forward to it.”
St. John’s will need to get around Marquette in order to secure a third day in the tournament. They’ve already knocked off the Golden Eagles twice in the regular season, but Ponds knows they have to maintain focus.
“It’s definitely an extra challenge,” said Ponds. “But I feel like it’s more confidence. I feel like those guys are going to bring their all, so I feel like we can’t lay down.”
St. John’s spent most of this season teasing everyone with their potential. They have the talent give opponents headaches, they were also wildly inconsistent enough to question how they’d fare in a one-and-done scenario. For at least one night, they calmed everyone’s worries and kept their goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament alive.