For the third straight season, the St. John’s Red Storm will remain “New York’s Team.”
The Johnnies (6-7) powered past their in-state rivals Syracuse for a dominant 93-60 win at the Carrier Dome on Dec. 21. The win was the third straight for the Red Storm over the Orange after they had lost 15 of 16 from 2001 to 2013, and the 33-point win was the second largest margin of victory in the 104-year history of this former Big East rivalry.
“I really can’t explain it. Especially, after the game we were coming off [a loss to Penn State on Dec. 18],” Head Coach Chris Mullin said. “This was a good experience and it feels good, but last game it didn’t feel good, but it was a good experience … I keep telling [our team] that if they want to be a winning team, that’s the process you have to go through.”
The surprise that Mullin spoke of postgame seemed to echo throughout the spacious Carrier Dome as the St. John’s lead began to expand during the second half. This was a Red Storm team that had dropped two straight coming into the game, and appeared to be trending downward heading into Big East play.
On a night that the Johnnies came just seven points shy of their season-high scoring output for a game, it was a balanced scoring effort that carried them. Only three players scored in double-figures for St. John’s, as Shamorie Ponds led the way with 21 points, while Bashir Ahmed added 20 and Malik Ellison dropped 16.
German-import Richard Freudenberg also had the best game of his young college career against the Orange. He scored nine points and shot 2-6 from three-point range after scoring just 15 total points on the season going into the game. Tariq Owens had nine points as well, while Kassoum Yakwe and Marcus LoVett each scored seven. LoVett also dished out a game-high nine assists. The Red Storm as a team had 27 assists on 34 made field goals.
“The way we shared the ball, we had 27 assists, that’s just a fun way of playing,” Ellison said.
The domination for St. John’s began relatively early. After the Red Storm trailed 14-12 at the 12:39 mark of the first half, they went on a 14-0 run over the next three minutes to take a 12-point advantage. The Johnnies led by as many as 15 at points in the half, but their lead was cut to 10, 39-29, at halftime.
As the second half began, Syracuse scored the first four points of the half to pull within six, and the St. John’s lead was 59-48 at the 11:26 mark But what followed was a 15-0 St. John’s run to give them a 74-48 lead and all but put the game away with just under eight minutes remaining.
The closing minutes seemed like a pickup game, as a Syracuse full-court press led to many easy breakaway layups and dunks for St. John’s down the stretch. The Red Storm led by as many as 37 before closing out the dominant win.
“From our energy and the game [we played], I had a good feeling we were going to win,” Ponds said. “I give credit to Syracuse and that zone. They are a great program. We found holes [in the zone] and took advantage.”
The win over Syracuse just continues a season of unpredictable play for the Red Storm. They have now beaten in-state rivals Syracuse and Fordham by a combined 61 points, but have also dropped games to Old Dominion, Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn.
“One thing I have learned in my short [coaching] stint is that you just never really know with these young guys,” Mullin said. “In the NBA when you play 82 games, there is going to be a few stinkers; that is for sure … For our team, it’s the youth and experience. We’ve had some really good games already and we’ve had some stinkers.”
The big win over Syracuse will certainly be a boost to the Red Storm’s confidence and momentum going into conference play. The young squad will be thrown right into the fire to begin Big East play as three of their first four conference games will be against ranked opponents, beginning with a home tilt with 13th-ranked Butler on Dec. 29.