Despite a late first-half run by the Grand Canyon Antelopes and poor shooting by the Johnnies, St. John’s handled the first game of their west coast swing with a 68-60 victory at Phoenix’s Talking Stick Arena, improving to 8-1.
Though St. John’s led for 36 minutes of the game, the game was choppy on offense. Was it the travel? Missing Marcus LoVett, who is recovering from injury?
Tariq Owens started in place of LoVett and the team went to him on the first possession for a jumper. That jump shot missed, and perhaps was a precursor for a game where the shots were a little off.
After the six minute mark in a first half filled with turnovers and missed offensive opportunities for both teams, St. John's had held Grand Canyon to a single point over 8 minutes in a 13-1 run the first half to take control.
Chris Mullin’s team led 25-14 at that point. The game had featured stretches of hasty offense from the Red Storm, uncharacteristic turnovers from the quick hands of GCU and some muscling for offensive rebounds from the Antelopes,
Just when the Johnnies fans who stayed up thought it was safe, GCU came back with a stretch of hustling, inspired play - forcing turnovers, using shot fakes under the basket. An 8-0 run by GCU brought Dan Majerle’s team to their closest point, but Shamorie Ponds scored three more points in the last minute of the half.
In the second half, a 7-0 run and a 5-0 run, powered by mistakes by both teams that allowed transition play gave the Red Storm the cushion they needed for the win. Ponds scored 17 in the half and grabbed three offensive rebounds to help the Johnnies maintain control.
St. John’s led by as many as 16 points; in a nervy, pressure-filled finish, the hometown Grand Canyon came within 8 points but could get no closer.
Shamorie Ponds led St. John’s with 28 points and six rebounds (four offensive) on 10/21 shooting; Justin Simon added 17 with 11 total rebounds (10 defensive) on 4/7 shooting and a perfect 8/8 from the line. Bashir Ahmed had 10 rebounds (nine defensive) and seven points on 3/12 shooting.
As a team, the Red Storm shot 43% inside the arc and 33% from outside the arc, but in the first half, the Johnnies hit 36% inside the arc. St. John’s also had 18 turnovers - at 23% of their possessions, their second-worst performance of the season.
But on the other side, the Johnnies held the Antelopes to 35% shooting inside the arc, 25% from distance, while the Antelopes had to weather 21 turnovers. Casey Benson led Grand Canyon with 18 points.
St. John’s heads to Los Angeles for the Hall of Fame Classic at the Staples Center at 8 PM eastern time.