By John Fanta
QUEENS – Throughout St. John’s 12-0 start to the season, Chris Mullin harped on the fact that he was still waiting for a complete 40-minute performance from his team.
Past Red Storm teams wouldn’t have delivered that on Tuesday night. Not after a devastating 76-74 loss to Seton Hall at the Prudential Center just 48 hours ago. Not after an officiating error opened the door for the Pirates to break the Johnnies’ hearts.
But this Red Storm team moved past it. Instead of an 0-2 start to Big East play, they rose to the occasion in their biggest game of the season to date. It was a complete performance in every sense, an 89-69 rout over #16 Marquette that sent a sellout crowd of 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena into a frenzy.
The biggest takeaway from Mullin? His defense.
“Our defense was phenomenal. That dictated the whole game,” said Mullin. “That Marquette team is one of the best offensive teams in the country.”
The Johnnies held Big East leading scorer Markus Howard to 2-of-15 from the field and just eight points. Howard came into the game averaging over 25 per game.
On top of that, a Golden Eagles team that averaged 9.5 triples per game shooting nearly 39 percent was held to just six on 29 percent.
As for Shamorie Ponds, the response of the Big East Preseason Player of the Year after Saturday’s eight-point performance against Seton Hall showed his maturation. The Brooklyn kid went off for a team-high 26 points on 8-of-15 from the field to go with seven rebounds and five assists.
“That’s what big-time stars do, to come back and not have two bad games in a row,” said Mullin. “That’s what pros do. They come back and answer the bell.”
Ponds’ teammates answered it too, with senior forward Marvin Clark II tallying 22 points to go with seven rebounds. Mustapha Heron pitched in 16, with Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa going for 12 and 11 respectively. All but two of the Johnnies’ points came from the starting five. For Clark, who went through some early season struggles, it was especially rewarding.
“My teammates have kept faith in me,” said the redshirt senior. “We have been working towards a moment like this, and want to deliver more of them.”
“This was our best overall game,” added Mullin.
On top of the defense, the Johnnies went nearly 22 minutes without a turnover, from the 4:53 mark of the first half to the 2:54 mark of the second.
The question will be if the Johnnies can bottle this up and take it forward with them into a Saturday showdown at Georgetown, but the hardest part is over – responding from a bitter defeat. Sometimes those moments are the ones that make a team closer.
“I believe that we finally have gelled as a team,” said Clark.
In a glimpse, the Johnnies showed their fans what they can be in March. If this performance can turn into consistency, their A-Game has rich potential on the big dance floor.
At 13-1, St. John’s renews its rivalry with Georgetown Saturday at 1 ET on CBS. Meanwhile, 11-3 Marquette will look to even its conference record hosting Xavier Sunday at Noon ET on FOX.