By Russell Hanson
Miami, FL- St Johns (7-0) continued their red hot start to the season with a 76-73 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-3). Shamoire Ponds, fresh of his Tournament MVP performance at the Legends Classic, poured in 37 points along with five rebounds and three steals.
The Red Storm started fast out of the gate, sinking five of their first seven shots to build an early lead.. St Johns led by as many as eight points but went cold and allowed Georgia Tech to bring the lead to three. With St Johns leading 20-17, Junior guard Shamoire Ponds stole the ball and dished a beautiful assist before immediately stealing the inbound pass for another day two points. This pushed the lead back to seven.
Georgia Tech refused to go away though as they responded with an old school three point play by James Banks III. Following that three, St Johns was assessed a technical foul resulting in two free throws by Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets sunk both to take their first lead of the game 25 – 24. The Yellow Jackets then proceeded to go on a 12-0 run to build a seven point lead with 3:32 remaining. James Banks III led the way for the Yellow Jackets scoring eight of his 14 points in the first half. After the game, Coach Mullin said “We started the game really well. The first 12 minutes or so…Then we got tentative and the momentum started to swing [Georgia Tech’s] way.”
After a sloppy final three minutes and a Shamoire Ponds half court buzzer-beater, the teams entered the locker room with Georgia Tech leading 38-29. “At the end of the half, they punched us in the mouth. We just had to respond.” Said Ponds after the game.
When the teams returned to the floor, it was more of the same from the Red Storm. They could not seem to get any shots to fall while Georgia Tech continued to find their way to the rim. Georgia Tech’s lead grew to 16 points before St Johns had to use their first timeout of the half. When asked about how Georgia Tech’s zone defense gave them trouble, Mullin said “We needed to stay aggressive. We have many ways to beat the zone but when your not aggressive and sharp and making the right passes, it’s hard to beat.”
Coming out of the timeout, Justin Simon converted an “and-one” to bring St Johns within thirteen. The Red Storm then brought even more energy to their large contingent of supporters by forcing a shot clock violation. Georgia Tech, however, went on to make six straight field goals bringing the score to 51-39. Every time St Johns started to go on a run, the Yellow Jackets were able to hit a big shot to keep their double-digit lead in tact. “When things are going good, it’s easy,” said Mullin in the post-game press conference. “ We talked about that in the timeout…I told the guys they have to lean on each other out there.”
Things got heated with just over ten minutes remaining as Shamoire Ponds drove the the basket and was fouled by Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado. Alvarado and Ponds went chest to chest and got called for double technicals before they were pulled apart. St John’s carried the momentum of the incident forcing turnovers on three straight Yellow Jacket possessions. The Red Storm converted those turnovers amidst a 6-0 run to bring the Georgia Tech lead to six.
St John’s, running a full court press, held Georgia Tech scoreless for a two minute stretch to get it to a one possession game with just under five minutes remaining. Shamoire Ponds took over at that point hitting a huge three to bring SJU within one before getting fouled and hitting both free throws to give St Johns their first lead since the first half, 67-66. On the very next possession, Ponds hit another three to get his point total to 31. St Johns then forced a turnover which translated to a lob from Simon to Figueroa to put ST John’s up 71-66 amidst an 11-0 run.
With under two minutes remaining, an obviously frustrated Georgia Tech team continued to struggle as St Johns turned up their defensive pressure. With just under a minute remaining and St Johns up by five, Georgia Tech missed their seventh consecutive shot. After a wild and intense finish full of free throws, St Johns held on for the victory 76-73.
St Johns will return to New York for a game against Mt Saint Mary’s on December 5th at 6:30pm. That game can be seen on FS2.