It was only fitting that Tuesday night’s contest between the St. John’s Red Storm and VCU Rams was the Legends Classic championship game. The game had a championship feel to it as both came to play, and the game turned into an instant classic. In the end, St. John’s won a hard fought victory in overtime by a score of 87 to 86 with Shamorie Ponds getting the final and emphatic two points to give the Red Storm the win.
For a game in November this game felt more like a game in March as it was hotly contested from the onset. Both teams came to play tonight and both were prepared to go the distance and the distance they went.
In the first half alone, there were eleven lead changes as the game became a back and forth fight. Neither team could get the advantage on shots alone, it needed to be a mix of play, luck, and hitting the right spots. To their credit, St. John’s did dominate play for much of the first half in getting at the ball and forcing VCU into committing turnovers, it was just that even with these aspects they were missing the one thing which was a final product at the basket. They would get the ball but had trouble converting the basket, though luckily on another night this would come back to hurt the Red Storm, but the Rams were having their own issues with the basket as well.
Early on both Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron were not having the best of games, Heron in particular would struggle for much of the game finishing the night with a meager eight points on 2-12 shooting. He would also foul out in overtime. Ponds, on the other hand, was just getting underway and his fortunes would change as the game went on. In the second half, VCU took over the lead for much of the half but coughed it up towards the end of the half, letting the Johnnies end it regulation in a tie though St. John’s had a chance to the take the lead with 5.8 left to play but missed their chance. It would require overtime and the reminder to hit your foul shots as overtime was won on the line with Ponds doing much of the foul shooting and admittedly a rub of the green in terms of calls going his way. In the end he would hit that big two pointer win the game and the tournament and along the way score 35 points in this game and set a Legends Classic record for scoring with 67 total points over these two nights in the Barclays Center.
He was not the only one to put up a solid effort. LJ Figueroa posted a 15 point game and was honored post-game for his efforts over these two nights. Rounding out the scoring was Marvin Clark II and Mikey Dixon both having 10 point games. Dixon in particular played the off the bench role perfectly for Chris Mullin’s team tonight coming in and hitting key spots right away to post a nice tidy scoreline for the game.
Scoring aside, it was pressure and team play that worked well for St. John’s as they forced the Rams to commit 22 turnovers over the course of the game to just nine by the Red Storm, even while getting out rebounded 45 to 36, but then again it felt like St. John’s were posting more shoots regards where they were in the offensive zone.
As a team, St. John’s and VCU shot the ball at the same rate of 42% from the floor, but differed in three points with St. John’s shooting 27% and VCU shooting 38% from beyond the arc. Both teams had similar foul line percentages with the Red Storm shooting 79% from the foul line and VCU going 78% from the line.
The Rams’ leading scorers were Isaac Vann with an impressive 30 points, De’Riante Jenkins posting a 14 point game, and Malik Crowfield having a 13 point night.
Post game, Mullin was reflective on the night remarking about Ponds’ natural touch for scoring but also how far along LJ Figueroa has come in such a short time. He was pleased with the win especially coming in a place that was so close to where he grew up here in Brooklyn. He also remarked that the team still needs to get better in a number of areas but things are moving along in the right direction.
In the end, it was a bloody great night of basketball for all to watch.