The St. John’s Red Storm didn’t need extra motivation for Saturday’s game with the Seton Hall Pirates.
After an exciting--yet controversial (depending on who you ask)--ending in their last meeting, a Dec. 29 game which served as both teams’ Big East opener, it looked like the Red Storm couldn’t wait for its shot at revenge.
The previous meeting was a close contest in which the Red Storm squandered a 10-point lead in the closing minutes of the game. St. John’s desperately tried to cling onto the lead, before a highly-criticized call by officials set up the game-winning possession and buzzer-beater by Shavar Reynolds.
Almost two months later, St. John’s didn’t want to make it close or leave things in the hands of referees. The Red Storm opened on a 28-5 run and hardly looked back, outplaying the Pirates in nearly every facet of the game en route to a wire-to-wire 78-70 finish.
”It was definitely payback,” said St. John’s point guard Shamorie Ponds. “We always kept in the back our minds what they did to us at the end. We just wanted to get it going.”
St. John’s opened 6-for-7 on the floor, as Shamorie Ponds and Marvin Clark II set the tone offensively. Overall, as a team, it felt like they could barely miss--almost everything was dropping during the scorching start to the game. On the other end of the court, the Pirates struggled to find their footing, as they failed to navigate their way through the Johnnies’ hard-nosed defense. They couldn’t hit their shots, got rejected at the rim, and failed to take good care of the ball--racking up 15 of their 22 turnovers in the first half alone.
”I give Marvin Clark a lot of credit,” said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard. “I thought he came out and really set the tone with his defense. Offensively, he got us on our heels. [My team], it wasn’t a lack of effort, you just have to give St. John’s credit. They knew how important this game was and they came out hungry like a pack of dogs.”
Seton Hall would respond with an 11-0 run midway through the half, but whenever Seton Hall would get a spark going, the Red Storm would answer back with a run of its own to pull away and pad its lead. St. John’s closed on an 8-0 run, topped off by a L.J. Figueroa three-pointer to make it 40-25 at the break.
This poise at the face of a Pirate scoring spurt proved to be true again in the second half. The Pirates remained persistent and at times trimmed the lead down to single digits, but whenever they would, St. John’s would put together the necessary plays to rebuild its big lead.
However, the Pirates would put together one final push that left St. John’s fans very uneasy. With 11:30 remaining in the game, Bryan Trimble Jr. drained a corner three to make it 57-35. It looked like the Red Storm would coast to the final buzzer, but the Pirates held their ground and started stringing together a massive run. Myles Powell, who had struggled offensively up until that point, scored 14 points during a 28-11 Seton Hall run that spanned the next 9:24. Michael Nzei would go 1-of-2 from the free throw line, trimming the deficit down to just five points, with 1:46 to go.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, that would be the closest it would get to catching up to the Red Storm. St. John’s managed to hold off the late-game comeback and hang on for the win.
”I just think mainly we’re locked in--focused and just not forgetting what the last game was like,” Clark said of avoiding back-to-back losses. “We’ve been trying our hardest not to drop two in a row, and I think we’ve been doing a really good job of that. Where we have to grow is being able to win and go into that next game with the same mindset.”
Clark finished with 18 points. He started the game 4-of-5 on the floor, and 3-for-4 from long range. His teammate, Ponds, had 27 points, five assists, and five steals. Justin Simon added 10 points and five rebounds.
”It was Marvin’s last game at the Garden,” Ponds said. “We wanted to give it all for him. That was a big factor. We didn’t want him to leave with a loss, that was the mindset.”
For Seton Hall, Powell paced the Pirates with 26 points. He was 9-of-21 on the floor and had six turnovers. Michael Nzei also finished in double figures, accounting for 11 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 on the floor.
”Coach will say the effort was there, because he has our back,” Powell said. “But as a captain and a leader, I’ll say it wasn’t there.”
Powell later added, “We knew we had to win two of these last four games. We’re not gonna stop.”
With a loss against St. John’s, Seton Hall now has three games remaining--a road game at Georgetown (Mar. 2), and then a grueling week at home with Marquette (Mar. 6) and Villanova (Mar. 9). The Pirates drop to 16-11 overall and 7-8 in Big East play.
As for St. John’s, it is now in sole possession of third place in the standings. The Red Storm improve to 20-8 and 8-7 against conference opponents.