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St. John’s shows balance, solid efforts from forwards in Marquette win

St. John’s plays their best game of the year, thanks to Kassoum Yakwe & team balance

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at St. John
St. John’s wins their 5th Big East game of the year, defeating Marquette 86-72 at Madison Square Garden
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Red Storm got some revenge on the Marquette Golden Eagles - who knocked off St. John’s in the Big East Tournament on the same floor - in a performance to remember.

In the 86-72 defeat of Marquette on Wednesday night, St. John’s got a balanced performance, a hint of what the team could be if they can impose the same defensive will on opponents and get the same balanced scoring.

Playing their second game in four days at the World’s Most Famous Arena, the Johnnies were coming off a tough 82-77 loss to #24 Xavier on Sunday evening, a performance that included ongoing issues - poor 3-point shooting down the stretch and their inability to out-rebound Big East opponents.

The Johnnies’ most valuable player of the night was the Bronx, NY native Bashir Ahmed, who finished with a season-high 23 points in 31 minutes. But in terms of balance, the output from Kassoum Yakwe was most surprising - and gave the Red Storm an interior scoring option.

In the press conference, Marcus LoVett praised tonight’s performances from both Ahmed and Yakwe, stating that both players are “crucial pieces to their team, and we play their best as a team when they are playing at a high level.”

Bashir Ahmed attacks basket, is defended by Marquette’s Luke Fischer
Wendell Cruz

Bashir Ahmed got the Johnnies rolling on offense early in the first half, scoring 5 points in the first three minutes of the game. He would eventually finish the first half with 11 points, 4-9 from the field.

Meanwhile, Kassoum Yakwe had an incredible first half on offense, scoring a season-high 12 points off of 5-6 shooting from the field.

Still, Shamorie Ponds guided the Red Storm, giving the team their first lead at the 6:57 mark and later scoring all 7 points of their 7-0 run over the final 1:12 of the first half.

In the second half, more balance began to show, as Malik Ellison and Marcus LoVett started the second half with each making a 3-pointer.

Tariq Owens was a catalyst in the first-half stretch that held Marquette scoreless for four minutes; Owens and Yakwe’s blocking and quick hands were catalysts as the lead increased to 17 in the second half.

Kassoum Yakwe blocks a shot vs Marquette
Wendell Cruz

Chris Mullin was extremely happy with Kassoum Yakwe’s performance tonight. “It was only a matter of time for him to get back into the groove on both sides of the floor,” Mullin said. He also emphatically quoted, “tonight’s performance was a complete, 40-minute basketball game…It was our best game from start to finish this year.”

Marquette Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski was very impressed with St. John’s performance tonight and praised their effort on defense. He said, “[St. John’s] ball pressure took us out of what we really wanted to do…our offensive performance hurt our defense.”

The Red Storm finished tonight’s with 42 points in the paint, shot over 48%, (32-66) from the field and 41%, (10-24) from behind the arc, while registering seven blocks on defense and forcing 17 turnovers from a Marquette team that averages 12 turnovers per game while playing at around the same fast pace.

One room for improvement that Chris Mullin’s squad must work on is their offensive production from bench players. Tonight, the Johnnies only had six points off the bench. But on a night like tonight, where the Johnnies only committed 13 turnovers, got contributions from Owens and Yakwe and actually won the rebound margin over Marquette, 40-39, Red Storm fans should be nothing but happy with the way their team performed, especially against a team who knocked off the #4 Villanova Wildcats just eight days ago.

They will need a similar, perhaps an even better performance for when they return to action Saturday night on the road to face the #4 Villanova Wildcats in Philadelphia, in what could be St. John’s most important games of the season.