The Red Storm needed this one badly. They did not want to wait it out on Selection Sunday on a four-game losing streak so St. John’s did something about it. In fact, everyone wearing a Red Storm uniform that got in the game did something about it.
St. John’s had four players in double figures led by Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon who had 18 points apiece and paced the offense in the Red Storm’s 82-74 victory over the DePaul Blue Demons.
When asked about Ponds asserting himself in the second half, St. John’s Coach Chris Mullin said simply “that’s our game plan.”
It also helped that Mustapha Heron and L.J. Figueroa added in strong performances with 18 points and 14 points respectively.
Defensively, it was much better from the Red Storm than we’ve seen of late and it needed to be against a DePaul team that came into the game with some confidence after a better than expected season in which they had won seven conference games. Simon and Ponds were huge there too.
“We rely on him tremendously to set the tone,” Mullin said. “It was a total team effort. These two guys here set the table.”
Max Strus and Paul Reed were held in check for most of the game and despite getting outrebounded, the margin was not wide enough for the Blue Demons to capitalize on it.
Strus picked up his third foul of the game with 55.9 seconds to go in the first half and Reed sat most of the first half with two fouls.
After Eli Cain had 16 points in the first half, he had only seven in the second half with not many others picking up the slack. The key to it all was simple.
“Keep Justin (Simon) in the game,” Mullin said. “Justin (Simon) was instrumental in setting the tone and then Shamorie (Ponds) and the rest of the guys made sure when (Max) Strus caught it he had two or three guys on him.”
Strus lit St. John’s up in Chicago with 43 points in the last meeting, but this time he didn’t much of a chance to anything until garbage time and finished with 14 points.
Still, DePaul hung around only being down four at the break. The Johnnies turned it up to another level in the second half to make sure the game would not be in doubt.
The Red Storm were able to turn DePaul mistakes into points and even their own mistakes into points as the play of the game was a Figueroa offensive putback slam off a missed three point shot that sent the Garden crowd into a frenzy with less than seven minutes to go.
St. John’s never looked back from there and advanced to face Marquette on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
Now after the Johnnies avoided losing three times this season to DePaul, their opponents will look to do the same.
For now, it looks like with the win the Red Storm are save for the NCAA Tournament and are now seeing if they can move on further at MSG.
The Red Storm play Marquette at 7pm on Thursday in the night session at Madison Square Garden.