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Three takeaways: Ponds dominates, team balance, FT shooting

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All starters play an important role; FT shooting still an issue

Bench gets excited
Wendell Cruz

Looking back on St. John’s 86-78 victory over Marquette...

Tariq Owens and Justin Simon, getting ready for the game
Wendell Cruz

The Marquette Golden Eagles visited Carnesecca Arena with its two under six foot guards, Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey expected to lead the way. The guards, particularly Rowsey, did not disappoint — but Rowsey was joined by forward Sam Hauser in setting a dangerous pace early.

The 6’8” Sam Hauser opened the scoring with a three from the left corner, but by the 11:55 mark of the first half, Rowsey had scored 11 straight points for the Eagles leading Marquette to a 14–11 lead. On the St. John’s side, Shamorie Ponds was keeping pace with eight points of his own.

St. John’s took a lead behind Justin Simon and Tariq Owens. Hauser hit a 10-footer to retake the lead for Marquette and forty seconds later Rowsey’s 24-foot three stretched the lead to 19-15. The teams swapped baskets and the Eagles shifted to a zone defense after Markus Howard’s basket at 9:28.

Then, at the 7:04 mark, Rowsey was fouled on an outside shot and made three free throws for a 26-17 lead. Rowsey’s quickness and savvy were taking over the game.

At 6:42 Bashir Ahmed, moving his feet quickly on defense, stymied a drive by Jamal Cain of the Eagles, leading to a turnover. The play would be the beginning of the turnaround for the Johnnies.

A layup by Simon, a 19-foot jump shot by Owens and two free throws by Simon reduced the lead to one for Marquette 26-25. At the 4:45 mark the Red Storm retook the lead on a layup by Marvin Clark II.

Crowd shot as the Johnnies start to defend their lead
Wendell Cruz

The game would be tied three more times, but the Johnnies would never be behind again.

As the Red Storm was taking the lead, Simon was clamping down on Rowsey, fighting through his constant movement around baseline screens. Rowsey, who had scored 19 points in the first 13 minutes of the half, went 0/3 in the final seven minutes of the half.

In contrast, Shamorie Ponds added six points as the half closed out with a 34-32 Red Storm lead.

Halftime

Fans were nervously optimistic about the second half noting that St. John’s was outshooting Marquette 48% to 34% and was outrebounding the Eagles 19 (three offensive) to 12 (one offensive). The Eagles had two more threes than the Red Storm and, uncharacteristically, St. John’s had eight turnovers to Marquette’s six. Statistically, the half was fairly even.

Ponds scored 17 points in the half, while Rousey scored 19. However, the fact that Marquette only had three players (Rowsey, Howard and Hauser), who had scored, was critical.

Second Half

It could be argued that the game was won in the first 37 seconds of the second half. Tariq Owens hit a three-pointer from the top of the key, then took a pass from a driving Simon and laid the ball in.

Tariq Owens slices through Marquette for an easy two
Wendell Cruz

Coach Wojciechowski of Marquette immediately called a timeout as suddenly the Red Storm led by seven.

The Eagles finally got scoring from the other players on the team along with a series of jumpers by Howard and Rowsey. However, this was met by scores by Bashir Ahmed and Ponds. At the 16:33 mark, the Red Storm led by five, 46-41.

By 15:01 the lead had dropped to three points after a three by Howard, who was beginning to regain his shooting touch. Then a steal by Ahmed was followed by a full court drive and layup, on which he was fouled — which led to an old-fashioned three point play. St. John’s led 51-45. A three by Marvin Clark stretched the lead to nine. However, three-pointers by Rowsey, Howard and Hauser kept the game close.

Marquette changed defensive strategies, and the result was the 6’5” Justin Simon being guarded by 5’11” Andrew Rowsey. St. John’s immediately and repeatedly took advantage of the mismatch, isolating Simon against Rowsey most often in the left corner. Simon backed down Rowsey for short turnaround jumpers and on two occasions, drew fouls.

Andrew Rowsey trying to get a word in
Wendell Cruz

At the 10 minute mark Howard made a 23-footer bringing the Eagles once again within three.

But it then became the Shamorie Ponds show. Ponds scored 23 of his 44 points in the last ten minutes of the half on twisting drives to the rim against which the Eagles had no defensive strategy and on a trio long three pointers.

Ponds’ 44 points in the game was a single game scoring record for a St. John’s player in Carnesecca Arena.

Three Takeaways

Shamorie Ponds, of course.

Ponds scored 44 points on 16 for 23 shooting. He had four rebounds, two assists and a steal, hitting 4 out of 7 three point attempts.

Shamorie Ponds, in the zone
Wendell Cruz

The fact that his three-point shot has come alive has only opened up the door for his drives toward the basket. Marquette often forced him into double teams which he, more often than not, broke down. They attempted to cover him with 6’8” Sam Hauser, the 6’5” Sacar Anim, and others, but those ended up being mismatches.

The only concern in his game was his eight turnovers.

Some were during attempts to break through double teams. Others occurred when forcing passes to teammates. Ponds readily accepted responsibility for errant passes to teammates and never shirked his defensive responsibilities.

Also of concern is that Ponds played 40 minutes for the fourth straight game, and his teammates are getting used to him playing 40 minutes and finding improbable ways to score.

Even Justin Simon said in the postgame media session, “I’m just like you. I get caught up watching. I love giving [Shamorie] the ball and seeing him go to work.”

They, at times, defer to him too much. While he responds successfully, Red Storm teammates need to take some of the burden off of him. If the team hopes to go deep in the Big East tournament, Ponds will be worn down playing this many minutes in back to back to back games.

Foul Shooting

The game was not quite on the line but Red Storm players not named Ponds only made four out of ten free throws in the last six minutes.

Games were lost earlier in the year on missed free throws. There will be close games ahead and the Big East Tournament brings an intensity that will be more challenging to St. John’s shooters.

Just think back four games: with a minute to play Xavier and St. John’s were tied. On a missed Xavier shot Bashir Ahmed, going for a rebound, was called for pushing Trevon Blueitt. Bluiett calmly made both free throws. Xavier led by two.

Blueitt returned the favor by fouling Ahmed at the forty second mark but Ahmed made only one of two free throws. The Musketeers continued to lead by one. If Ahmed had just made the second free throw, the game easily could have had a different outcome.

Imagine defeating the number six, number four and number one teams in the same week!

The team needs to continue to work on improving their free throw percentage.

Team Balance

Yes, Ponds scored 44 out of 86 points for the Red Storm. However, look at the balance afterwards: Simon scored 16, Owens nine, Clark eight and Ahmed eight.

It was Simon’s turn to be the second leading scorer. Owens had to sit out several minutes due to foul trouble or, given his effectiveness in stretches, he would have scored more than nine points.

Clark hit a couple of timely threes and Ahmed, with the game tightening up, stole the ball and drove the court for a layup and foul shot that kept the Eagles out of arm’s reach. Each starter played an important role in this victory.

Against Villanova, it was Simon and Clark.

Against Duke, it was Ahmed and Owens.

Each of the starters has taken on this secondary role in the last three games, allowing the Johnnies to keep the opponents honest in defending Ponds. Hopefully going forward, it will be a balance that allows the Johnnies to overcome a bad night by one of their starters.

Outlook

Bashir Ahmed gets fouled in transition
Wendell Cruz

Three impressive wins has not simply raised hopes but has given a clear path to a successful season. Win four of the next five and the team will have a chance at an NIT bid.

But it is one game at a time. Four point wins over Duke and Villanova are milestone victories in the season. But how different are they from the almost wins against Xavier, Georgetown and Creighton?

It is still one game at a time and the Johnnies must identify the needed improvements that will change losses into victories.

Nothing can be taken for granted as opponents — not DePaul next Wednesday or Marquette seeking revenge at home the following Wednesday. In a league as competitive as the Big East, opponents are also making adjustments and improving. Go Johnnies.