Without a true point guard in 2015-16, St. John’s struggled to initiate their offense and failed to run Chris Mullin’s NBA space-and-space system successfully. The result: One of the worst seasons in program history.
This year, St. John’s doesn’t just have one dynamic point guard; they have two.
And on Monday night, Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds proved why they could become one of the more underrated backcourts in the Big East in a 77-61 win over Binghamton at Carnesecca Arena. LoVett scored a game high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while Ponds dropped 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out four assists.
The duo combined to turn the ball over just five times and played solid defense, forcing four steals.
“We (me and LoVett) just bring the best out of each other,” Ponds said when asked how him and his teammate play off one another. “We just try to go out there and play are hardest each and every day and lead; smoothest guys on the floor, but just having the biggest hearts and the biggest voice.”
Both LoVett and Ponds are lefties who stand just over six-foot. They are unselfish, smart and quick. The duo can score from deep, get out in transition to finish easy baskets, play in the pick-and-roll and attack the lane and look for open teammates.
And their play has made the jobs of other players on the team much easier.
Federico Mussini only scored five points on Monday night, but he is now sliding into his regular position off the ball. Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe are focusing in on their defense and rebounding skills. And Malik Ellison and Bashir Ahmed have better angles when attacking from the wing.
With LoVett and Ponds in command, the offense looks smoother and the ball movement is impressive.
Ponds, in particular, has overachieved early in his St. John’s career. Normally, freshman struggle to adjust to the speed of the college game, but the confident youngster has looked unafraid in his first two outings.
“He individually is ahead of where I thought he would be,” Mullin said following the team’s victory. “And probably more so IQ wise on the court…When you watched the kid in high school, he was a primary scorer. His passing, his defensive instincts are really good and he picks things up quick.”
Binghamton clearly had trouble with St. John’s pace and tempo throughout the night. They only trailed by four early in the second half, but they wore down as the half rolled along, failing to keep the Johnnies in check.
As a team, St. John’s hit 44 percent of their shots from the floor, 42 percent from the perimeter and dished out 16 assists on 28 baskets. They had 16 turnovers, however, many of them were not live ball giveaways, limiting the Bearcats’ fast break opportunities.
Moving forward, the Johnnies have some stiff tests that will truly be early season tests to see where they stand as a unit. St. John’s travels to Minnesota on Friday to take on the Golden Gophers in the Gavitt Games, and then they are taking a trip south to play in a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
But with LoVett and Ponds taking the reigns, this team looks ready to handle the potential battles right away.