When watching St. John’s basketball games this season, the question seems to always be, “How are they going to get out of this one?”
They’ve fought their way back from double digit deficits. They’ve overcome slow starts. They’ve also managed to fight off late-game rallies from opponents. Princeton was relentless and St. John’s defense didn’t seem to have an answer.
Although the Red Storm forced 13 first half turnovers and at one point had a 15-3 run that made it seem like the beginnings of a blowout, the Tigers strung together three-pointer after three-pointer and stayed within reach. The Red Storm defense struggled to contain them, and even gifted Princeton with a free basket--tipping the ball into its own hoop while attempting to grab a rebound. The sloppiness was fixed with a resurgent 21-6 run, but the Tigers weathered the storm again and trimmed the lead down to as close as six.
Finally, in the end, thanks to a basket by Shamorie Ponds and then a jumper by Justin Simon to make it a double-digit game again. The Tigers never scored for the final 3:41 of the game, as St. John’s managed to pull away for good and fend off Princeton for an 89-74 victory.
Five different St. John’s players scored in double digits. Ponds led the way with a game-high 26 points, five rebounds, and five assists. L.J. Figueroa (17 points), Marvin Clark (13), Mustapha Heron (12), and Justin Simon (11).
”I think the moments got too big for us at times, we were so careless with the ball,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said. “20 turnovers in essentially in a road game for us...It’s a good St. John’s team, they’re very talented. We talked about taking care of the ball and getting back in transition, and we didn’t do that very well.”
The Red Storm led for a majority of the game, but the Tigers stayed in it all-throughout. St. John’s led, 41-38, at halftime.
For Princeton, it weathered a couple of big scoring sprees, getting through by firing away their own three-point barrages. Their cold spell at the end of the game finally sealed things.
Devin Cannady led the Tigers with 18 points and six made three-pointers. Jaelin Llewellyn made his collegiate debut at Madison Square Garden and played well under the bright lights, scoring 17 points. Richmond Aririguzoh led the push up front, with 14 points and six boards. Jose Morales added 13 points, four boards, and five assists.
The Red Storm will be back in action next Sunday, when they take on Wagner at 4:30 p.m. ET
Here are three takeaways from the game:
For the start of the St. John’s-Princeton game, Chris Mullin went in a direction that no one expected. By now the starting five seems solidified--Ponds, Heron, Simon, Clark, and Figueroa.
However, there was shock, intrigue, and confusion when the starting lineups were announced. The dynamic duo in the backcourt of Ponds and Heron was still intact, but the other three spots were filled by the guys who are usually first off the bench--Bryan Trimble Jr., Mikey Dixon, and freshman Greg Williams Jr.
They played until the under-16 media time out, when St. John’s had a 10-8 lead to begin the game. After the break, Mullin sent out his usual starters to join Ponds and Heron, and replace the trio of replacements.
Trimble and Dixon got substantial playing time, logging over 20 minutes each. Williams didn’t see much action after being subbed out of the game at the U-16 first half time out. He played a total of six minutes.
Dixon had seven points, including a 2-for-3 showing from deep. Trimble had three points and four boards.
”Coaches’ decision,” Chris Mullin said of the lineup change.
When asked if it was a disciplinary issue, he doubled down and said, “coaches’ decision.”
Much like earlier in the week, when Mount St. Mary’s was able to do almost whatever it wanted from beyond the arc, Princeton was able to torment the Johnnies from deep as well. The Tigers made the game close thanks to the three-point shot. Despite turning the ball over 20 times and spotting St. John’s with a 15-3 run which pushed the Red Storm lead into double figures in the first half, the Tigers were able to heat up from beyond the arc.
Aside from Sunday’s Princeton game, in five of the eight games that the Red Storm played, they allowed their opponents to shoot over 38 percent from downtown. In almost all of those instances, their foes managed to drain at least 10 shots from long range. Mount St. Mary’s managed to make 12-of-31 (38.7 percent) of its three-point shots. Bowling Green, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and California all shot over 40 percent from deep. Meanwhile, VCU drained a season-high 13 treys on the Johnnies.
Princeton--despite shooting a subpar 32.5 percent from long range entering Sunday--sank a barrage of threes. Although the Red Storm performed at a high clip offensively, the Tigers were able to stay right there with them due to their hot shooting and St. John’s struggling to figure it out, especially early on.
The Tigers finished with a 13-of-31 (41.9 percent) from long range. Although their production dropped in the second half, where they were held to a poor 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) to finish.
Fire With Fire
While St. John’s figures out how to be consistent on defense, this team remains a machine offensively. Through nine games this season, the Red Storm is averaging 83.1 points per game, ranking among the top 40 in the NCAA.
The Red Storm showed how dangerous it could be when it’s more than just the Shamorie Ponds show. As good as the junior guard is, when multiple players can score in double figures, and in the case of tonight--five different players....this is a team that can score with the best of them. Its 55 percent shooting performance on Sunday was impressive, and it’ll be interesting to see how this keeps up once conference play arrives.