Despite the high of making the NCAA Tournament, it’s hard not to notice that this team also ended the season with a loud and resounding thud — but this time in Dayton’s First Four play-in round, not in the Big East Tournament.
So that is, in some small measure, progress.
That progress doesn’t unsalt the stinging wound that is St. John’s 74-65 loss to Arizona State. It was a game that saw the Johnnies once again playing from behind early, bothered by defensive height.
Chris Mullin’s team may have reached the NCAA Tournament, but the way the team played was not an inspiring look at a rebuild.
To their credit, St. John’s found some creative ways to try and get points on the board - backdoor cuts for LJ Figueroa, pressure defense, post-ups for Shamorie Ponds. But the team’s uncharacteristic turnovers and some shooting that ranks with the worst performances of the season undid the decent things they did to attack the Sun Devil zone and pressure.
Now, the offseason awaits. There are lots of potential changes that could happen on the roster, or most of this team could return.
But first, how this game went down...
In the first half, St. John’s had nothing going on offense. The Red Storm had only six points at the rim, and shot 3/13 from the perimeter, ending the half 9 of 30 from the field.
A 16-3 run by Arizona State, part of a 25-7 run where St. John’s shooting entered a twilight zone from which it would not return, gave the Sun Devils a lead of as many as 18. ASU guard Luguentz Dort and big Zylan Cheatham were excellent two-way players, while Shamorie Ponds struggled to carry the team with 12... as the rest of the squad had struggles.
Mustapha Heron had a particularly forgettable half, and forgettable game, fouling out with six points overall, and going 0/6 in the first half.
The one thing that the Sun Devils did well all year that impacted the Red Storm was their defense. The Sun Devils had the best opposing field goal percentage in the Pac-12 with conference opponents shooting 47% on two-pointers. In the half, St. John’s was held to 35% inside the arc.
But the Johnnies had positives: the Sun Devils, great at getting to the line, did not dominate on free throws. They did not dominate on the offensive glass (in fact, the Johnnies had six offensive rebounds to ASU’s 2). And Cheatham sat for the last five minutes of the first half, allowing the Red Storm to have a modest 8-3 run.
Starting the second half, Luguentz Dort suffered a hard foul reaching for a ball with Heron; that foul earned a dubious technical on Mustapha Heron. The game looked lost, even as Heron was fouled shooting a three, and missed all three free throws. A stretch of turnovers powered an 8-0 run that brought St. John’s as close as 7.
Just as St. John’s started cutting into the Sun Devil lead, with improved second half defense, the Red Storm went cold on offense. St. John’s went on a 3 minute scoring drought, allowing the Sun Devils to regain a double-digit lead.
Any time St. John’s began to claw its way back into the game, Dort found a way to answer. The Johnnies pressured, got the deficit to as low as seven, but could not make that final push in the First Four game.
With a minute and a half remaining, senior Marvin Clark II fouled out to ending both a scoreless evening (0/5 FG, 0/4 3PT) and a college career.
St. John’s began fouling in the final minute, but Arizona State converted its free throws and advanced to take on Buffalo, leaving St. John’s to finish the season 1-4 in the month of March.
The Johnnies converted 13/23 from the free throw line in what ended up being a nine point loss. They shot 8/31 from beyond the arc.
So after forcing 21 turnovers, holding Arizona State to 41% on twos and 17% on threes in the second half, the Red Storm couldn’t play a cohesive enough offense to bleed out a win and put some gloss on what ended up being a somewhat productive season that fell fairly short of expectations.
St. John’s Red Storm
Shamorie Ponds: 25 points (8/20 FG, 4/12 3PT), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover
LJ Figueroa: 19 points (8/16 FG, 3/5 3PT), 10 rebounds, 2 steals
Justin Simon: 10 points (3/9 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Arizona Sun Devils
Luguentz Dort: 21 points (6/11 FG, 1/4 3PT), 4 rebounds
Zylan Cheatham: 14 points (3/11 FG, 1/2 3PT), 10 rebounds, 3 turnovers