The last time Shamorie Ponds set foot onto the court of the Barclays Center, he was still a high school senior competing in the Jordan Brand All-American Classic.
He had a big 18-point performance then, and on Sunday he returned to the Barclays Center with his St. John’s Red Storm to take on the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. The Johnnies and Blackbirds took part in the first game of a doubleheader at the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival.
However, it wasn’t really the happy homecoming Ponds would have liked.
LIU Brooklyn stunned St. John’s, winning 74-73 after Iverson Fleming banked in a shot with 25 seconds left that would be end up being the game-winner.
“I feel like we didn’t carry the energy over that we had from the last couple of games,” Ponds said of the Red Storm’s demeanor on the court in the loss. “I felt like we came out too nonchalant and flat.”
He wasn’t kidding. The Blackbirds started the game shooting 8-of-9 and raced out to an early lead over St. John’s. Meanwhile, the Red Storm was struggling early to get its shots to fall.
Eventually, the Red Storm would settle in behind the play of Ponds. Bashir Ahmed knocked down a three to bring the Johnnies their first lead of the game, a 29-26 advantage with 6:13 left in the first half.
LIU Brooklyn wouldn’t back down, however, and went on to tie it up at 42 with the Red Storm going into the break.
The back-and-forth game continued throughout the second half. The Blackbirds were paced by the double-double performances of Jerome Frink and Nura Zanna. Frink led the way with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Zanna had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“We have two horses down low,” LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri said of Frink and Zanna. “They are two strong guys that are skilled.”
At one point midway through the second half, the Red Storm took a seven-point lead and looked like it was going to pull away from the game. LIU Brooklyn promptly responded with a 9-0 run started by Frink and topped off by Fleming to make it a close game once again.
Eventually, with the Blackbirds down by four, Fleming hit a 3-pointer to answer back to a St. John’s three. After a St. John’s turnover, he would then hit the eventual go-ahead basket.
Fleming would finish with a game-high 21 points.
St. John’s had three chances to produce the game-winning shot. The Red Storm received a couple strokes of fortune, as it turned the ball over twice over the final 18 seconds of the game. Despite this, LIU Brooklyn would then lose the ball quickly after taking it away from St. John’s.
On the third and final opportunity to win the game, Ponds went for a mid-range jumper that hit off the rim and out, and cue the Blackbird celebration.
Three takeaways from the game:
Shamorie Ponds is Something Special
With partner-in-crime Marcus Lovett out with an ankle injury, Ponds had to do a lot by himself. St. John’s hadn’t been tested like Sunday, winning the first two of three Marcus Lovett-less games rather easily.
Although Ponds couldn’t muster the game-winning shot at the buzzer, he at least put the Red Storm in a position to win the game. He finished with a team-high 18 points, six rebounds, and four assists. He made a number of difficult shots and was solid from beyond the arc, going 4-for-8 from downtown.
As a young freshman, the potential and large upside is certainly there. He’s a playmaker, and the game would have certainly been worse for St. John's without him.
Yankuba Sima’s absence was especially felt in the LIU Brooklyn loss. Yes, Sima had been seeing a decrease in playing time as the season unfolded, but the Red Storm could have easily used another big body to rumble down low with Frink and Zanna down low.
With Sima gone, the Red Storm only have one player taller than 6-9 left: Tariq Owens. Owens, who has been getting Sima’s minutes in his place, exceled on defense. He had four blocks in the LIU Brooklyn game, but fouled out with 3:39 remaining. St. John’s needed more than just Kassoum Yakwe, and it wasn’t getting the production it would have liked from Richard Freudenberg.
Darien Williams was solid in the loss, scoring 15 points, but it was apparent St. John’s could have easily used one more big man down low.
Turnovers on Turnovers
The Red Storm turned the ball over 18 times in the loss, which the Blackbirds converted into 19 points. While double digit turnovers are no stranger to the Red Storm this season (ranked 158th in turnover rate, turnovers on 19.0 percent of possessions), it certainly didn’t help that it led to that many points and scoring opportunities for LIU Brooklyn.
It’s one thing when St. John’s is up by double figures and winning comfortably, so those mistakes are brushed aside, but in close games or tougher opponents, it won’t work.