by John Fanta @John_Fanta
Is this year different for St. John’s? The answer starts on Thursday night in Queens.
St. John’s dealt with questions all throughout the preseason about whether this year would be different for the Red Storm. Coming off a 14-19 season, the talk around SJU has been that this can be the season that a climb to a postseason takes place. While the Johnnies rocked Central Connecticut 80-55 to move to 2-0 on Tuesday night, those questions about expectations were still asked in the postgame press conference.
Here’s the good news – maybe the best news – for Chris Mullin’s team: the Red Storm’s answer to those expectation questions begins on Thursday with a Gavitt Games showdown against Nebraska in Queens.
“We lost to a Big Ten team (Minnesota – 92-86) last year. We want revenge this time,” said sophomore point guard Shamorie Ponds, who had 21 points, nine rebounds, and four assists in Tuesday’s win. “This team is ready for the big games, the big teams, and we feel like we’re gonna get it done.”
St. John’s, which scored 31 points off 21 CCSU turnovers, will aim for what looks like an improved defense to translate in the Red Storm’s first real test.
“Coach (Mullin) always preaches, ‘pressure the ball,’” Ponds added. “We try to stay on them for 94 feet.”
There’s zero question that St. John’s has the scoring weapons to compete with anybody across the BIG EAST. That balance was on display Tuesday night, as Arizona transfer Justin Simon tallied 12 points and 11 boards for his first double-double. After a silent first half, sophomore guard Marcus Lovett put up a 15-point second stanza.
“We’ve got some guys who can shoot the ball, but I’m always more concerned with how those shots are being generated,” said Mullin. “Tonight, I thought we had good shot distribution.” The Red Storm finished with 15 assists on 27 field goals, including four apiece from both Lovett and Ponds.
The Huskers also check in at 2-0 heading into Thursday’s tilt. Tim Miles’ team is powered by solid guard play as well, as 6-foot Glynn Watson Jr. and 6-foot-6 James Palmer Jr. have combined to average 33 points in two games.
“”It’s going to be a physical matchup,” said Mullin about Nebraska. “They’re gonna be the biggest, strongest team we’ve played. We’ve gotta meet that with force and then come back and play our game.”
Tip-off between St. John’s and the Huskers is set for 6:30 PM ET from Queens on Thursday. The game will be televised on FS1.