Stifling Defense and Balanced Offense Key in St. John’s Victory

The Johnnies forced 20 turnovers and used a 20-2 first half run to overpower Central Connecticut.

Derrell Bouknight, Co-Sports Editor

Down by 19 to St. John’s with just under ten minutes remaining in the second half, Central Connecticut forward Joe Hugley found himself stranded in the paint, surrounded by the outstretched arms of Justin Simon.

Hugley found a slight opening with an up-and-under move on the block, briefly getting past Simon before having his shot pinned against the glass by Kassoum Yakwe, who was lurking behind Simon.

From there, guard Shamorie Ponds chased down the ball and ignited a fast break. Marcus LoVett ran with him before veering off to the left wing, catching a behind-the-back pass from Ponds in stride before burying a three-pointer.

The shot put the Red Storm up 22 and took the energy out of the Blue Devils, who came into the matchup winless in their first two games. It wasn’t the first time Carnasecca Arena erupted Tuesday night during St. John’s 80-55 victory. Four players finished in double figures, including Ponds, who lead all scorers with 21 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists.

But for him, the offensive outing wasn’t what led to their second straight win to start the season.

“I think it was just defensive pressure,” Ponds said after the game. “Coach just preached pressure, pressure, pressure and not letting them get easy baskets…So I feel like we just picked it up defensively.”

It was the second straight game in which St. John’s forced at least 20 turnovers. They caused seven miscues in as many minutes in the opening half, which helped jump start a 20-2 run that lasted nearly eight minutes.

“We just tried to stay on them 94 feet, front end and back end,” Ponds said. “And just put as much pressure on the guards as we could.”

After getting out-rebounded 42-27 by New Orleans last Friday, the Red Storm adjusted and held a 38-29 advantage against Central Connecticut. Head Coach Chris Mullin, who emphasized rebounding to his team following last Friday’s game, was pleased with the way his team battled on the glass.

“Who gets [rebounds] is not that important, we’ve got to go get them,” Mullin said. “And tonight, Shamorie and Justin had 11 and 9. I’ve asked them to get into the paint. If their guy is not underneath the basket and they’re not boxing out, get in the paint and help those bigs on those loose balls and ones that come over your head.”

Simon recorded his first double-double on the year, his 11 boards complimenting 12 points, three assists and two steals.

LoVett scored all 15 of his points in the second half, including two straight threes to increase the St. John’s lead after the Blue Devils cut the deficit to 11 four minutes into the second half.

Forward Bashir Ahmed scored 13, and freshman guard Bryan Trimble Jr. scored eight off the bench, helping his team to a convincing 80-55 win over Central Connecticut State.

One problem for the Red Storm was evident throughout the game. Junior center Deion Bute scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Blue Devils in both categories. 12 of his points came in the paint, 22 in total for the team. And while St. John’s didn’t allow much in the paint aside from Bute, containing his length was a problem, something to watch when they take on Nebraska this Thursday.

“It’s going to be a physical matchup,” Mullin said of the Cornhuskers. “I told them that tonight. It’s going to be the biggest, strongest team we’ve played so far, and they’re going to bring the physicality, that’s always been a fact with the Big Ten. We have to meet that with force.”

Nebraska comes into Thursday’s contest with a 2-0 record, with wins over Eastern Illinois and North Texas. They finished last season with a 13-18 record, including an overtime loss in the conference tournament to Penn State.

After falling to Big Ten-power Minnesota last year, Ponds knows the team faces a challenge, one he eagerly awaits.

“It’s a big test for us,” he said. “Last year, we lost to a Big Ten team, so I feel like this is our chance to get our revenge.”