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St. John’s final: Ponds and the Johnnies eke out 76-70 victory over Cal State Northridge

A tense game was won by a dynamic Shamorie Ponds

Wendell Cruz

St. John's got a tough game from the visiting Cal State Northridge Matador squad tonight. But some deft shooting and a late run held off the Matadors, 76-70, tonight at Carnesecca Arena.

Marcus LoVett sat out the game with an ankle injury, but Shamorie Ponds led the charge, scoring 25 (his career-high) in the game.

Ponds was very good, finding backdoor opportunities, attacking when he found one-on-one matchups while also pacing the team with his three-point shooting in the first half, and generally being a steady player, despite some freshman moments. Ponds flashed some skill in the middle of the first half as well, with a slick pass on one possession, and some nice transition decisions throughout the game.

Bashir Ahmed added 13 and Federico Mussini added 12; Ahmed led the team with eight rebounds.

St. John’s improves to 4-5 on the season, while Northridge falls to 3-6.

Tariq Owens also stole the show with little energy plays on defense, being long and disruptive, drawing a charge and being active on the glass and blocking four shots. Getting the start, Malik Ellison had some solid moments, adding 10 points, four defensive rebounds, and tying the team lead with five assists (Ponds also added five).

The Matadors were led by a balanced effort and just under 50 points in the paint against the Big East team. Darin Johnson had 15 and UConn transfer Rakim Lubin added 13 points.

There were good moments from Tariq Owens in particular and from Kassoum Yakwe as well. Owens had five points, five defensive rebounds, four blocks, a steal and an assist. Yakwe had six points, three defensive rebounds and two on offense (five total) and two blocks.

But inside play of St. John's continues to be exposed, despite those solid moments.

And it's not just the individual play; the Matadors were able to use dribble moves to get deep into the paint and were successful laying the ball off for easy layups on their way to points in the paint.

)nce again, the youth showed. Mussini with a bad miss at the rim, Shamorie Ponds killing the momentum of a 7-0 run by driving on a backdoor cut with no CSUN defender at the rim, cocking the ball back and just missing the dunk; Amar Alibegovic and the team struggling to execute with just over a minute to play, giving up a turnover that brought the Matadors back to within two points.

But there were good moments of ball movement and sharing. Despite a meh efficiency night, Bashir Ahmed id a better job of playing off of his teammate, snaking in for a critical foul drawn with just under five minutes left after Shamorie Pond drew the defense's attention. On the next possession, Malik Ellison saved a dying shot clock, using a Tariq Owens screen and finishing with a layup at the rim.

Plus: the defense had some disruptive moments late, doing just enough to force misses at the rim. St. John’s held CSUN to 0.92 points per possession, which is solid.

But overall, the Johnnies couldn’t hold the Matadors off in the paint; CSUN scored 62% inside the arc in the second half and 55% in the game. Their 14% shooting from outside the arc (0/6 from three in the second half) was a factor in the Johnnies’ win.

Next up for St. John’s is Fordham at Carnesecca Arena on Thursday, a chance for revenge against the Rams, who throttled St. John’s last season.