It was close.
It was nerve-wracking.
But it was a win.
Mustapha Heron returned from his knee injury to lead St. John’s to victory over the bothersome Butler Bulldogs, 77-73.
The Johnnies improve to 6-6 in conference and 18-7 overall, while Butler drops to 5-7 in conference and 14-11 overall. St. John’s heads back to to Madison Square Garden to take on the leader in the Big East standings, Villanova.
For large stretches of the first half, one of the best versions of the Red Storm was on display. For most of the half, the ball was moving, and the team was knocking down open shots; 8 of St. John’s 14 made field goals were off of assists. Ball movement led to open looks from deep, as St. John’s went 7 of 16 from beyond the arc.
In short, the Red Storm channeled their inner Houston Rockets. St. John’s scored 14 points at the rim (3/6 on layups, 4/5 on dunks) and 21 points off threes, resulting in 35 of their 38 first half points coming at the rim or from deep.
Marvin Clark II had a particularly effective half, stroking the deep ball early and often. After only scoring 6 points against Providence on Saturday, Clark exploded for an efficient 13 points (5/8 FG, 3/5 3PT) in the half.
Defensively, the Red Storm flew around forcing tough shots and turnovers. Butler had 9 turnovers in the first half, and St. John’s scored 10 points off those turnovers. When Butler did get shots off, they did not shoot well with Butler going 12 of 27 from the field and 4 of 15 from three.
As a result, St. John’s went into the half up 38-30. While the half never felt that close, sloppy passes added up to short stretches of missed opportunities. Despite how it felt, Butler was lingering, waiting for a chance to pounce.
The St. John’s in the second half was not the same that played in the first. The Red Storm accumulated only 2 assists, 3 points of turnovers, and shot only 3 of 9 from three.
Early in the second half, Butler continued to stick around, at least until Mustapha Heron had enough.
Butler had made it a two possession game soon after the U16 timeout, only for Heron to score 5 points over the three following possessions.
Despite Heron’s heroics, Butler responded with a 11-0 run to tie up the game. Josh Roberts laid one in to break the tie.
From there, Heron continued his strong second half with 10 second half points (3/5 FG), seemingly willing the Red Storm to victory.
The Red Storm maintained a lead for most of the rest of the game. But Kamar Baldwin took control in the last two and a half minutes, scoring twice and assisting on a shot — all in the paint. Finally, Paul Jorgensen converted a layup giving Butler a 1 point lead with 12 seconds remaining.
Naturally, the ball found its way into Shamorie Ponds’s hands, who forced his way to the free throw line for two. Bumped on his arm and wincing, Ponds only knocked one of two down — enough to tie, but not enough for the win.
With four seconds left, Butler’s Kamar Baldwin missed the buzzer beater from deep, and like last time Butler came to Carnesecca, the game went to overtime all tied up at 66 apiece.
Unlike last time, St. John’s had Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron on the floor. The duo made their presence known. Ponds finished overtime with three points while Heron finished with six points of his own, though he committed a late turnover that gave the Bulldogs one last chance to tie.
Butler missed their shot. Heron atoned with two clutch free throws. And their efforts were just enough to St. John’s to walk away with the win, 77-73.
St. John’s Red Storm
Mustapha Heron: 28 points (8/15 FG, 2/4 3PT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers
Marvin Clark II: 18 points (7/16 FG, 4/10 3PT), 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Shamorie Ponds: 14 points (4/12 FG, 2/4 3PT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover
Kamar Baldwin: 16 points (7/18 FG, 0/5 3PT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover
Paul Jorgensen: 15 points (5/12 FG, 2/7 3PT), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover