A wise man once said, “In a year that’s been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
That quote hits home for the St. John’s Red Storm now, as they’ve now defeated two of the most prominent teams in college basketball in consecutive games. First, it was the Duke Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Now, four days later, it’s the No. 1-ranked Villanova Wildcats.
Despite facing the tall task of taking on Jalen Brunson and the ‘Cats in Philadelphia, Shamorie Ponds and the Red Storm rose to the occasion. The Johnnies unseated the Wildcats from the top of the Big East and perhaps the top of the nation as well with their 79-75 upset victory.
Ponds, who went on a rampage against the Blue Devils on Saturday, followed that performance up with a 26-point outburst Wednesday night. The sophomore guard went 8-20 from the field, but was 8-9 from the free throw line and made quite a few clutch shots from the line down the stretch. The New York native also added five boards and five assists to his line, while playing all 40 minutes with just two turnovers to speak of.
He wasn’t the only Red Storm player to show out, either. Three others joined him in double figures, as Bashir Ahmed (10), Marvin Clark II (15) and Justin Simon (16) chipped into the fun, as well. Simon was outstanding, posting a double-double with 10 boards to go along with those 16 points. Clark, meanwhile, had six boards to go with his 15 points, and just one turnover in 37 minutes. Ahmed shot 4-7 from the field and 2-2 from the line.
A spirited effort by Big East and National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson was not enough for ‘Nova to continue their winning ways. Brunson scored 28 points, but he also shot 2-11 from the 3-point line. That was an overarching storyline for the ‘Cats in this game. The usually efficient bunch on The Main Line shot a meager 24.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Their best shooter on the night from long range was Collin Gillespie. The freshman went 4-6 from deep, but everyone else went a combined 4-27.
All in all, credit to the Red Storm. After losing 11 games in a row, it had to get demoralizing. But to spin around and beat Duke and Villanova in back-to-back games is a confidence booster and then some. There’s no telling if they’re going to really turn it around, but this certainly aids everybody involved on the team. It’s an historic moment for the program, too, as they’d never beaten back-to-back Top 5 teams before. In addition, they hadn’t beaten a No. 1 team since... Chris Mullin was playing for them.
For Villanova, meanwhile, this certainly damages their chances of getting the No. 1 overall seed. To say it hurts their chances of claiming a No. 1 seed though would be farfetched. They still have a very high-quality resume. They can probably afford one or two more losses to quality opponents, but they’re more than fine. It’s more likely than not that this goes down as a clunker, and that Villanova remains a legitimate threat to win a National Championship.
On Wednesday night, however, they were just on the wrong side of the coin.