St. John’s Loses Close Game to No. 1 Team in Villanova; Ponds Goes For 37 Points

Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics.

By David Cordova

The 2017-18 season has been a season of rebuilding and learning for the St. John’s Red Storm after two dismal seasons under Chris Mullin. Early on in the non-conference schedule, they had some good wins against teams such as Nebraska, Oregon State and St. Joseph’s, which contributed to a 10-2 record early on.

And then when they went into conference play, things unraveled, as they have lost the last six games, all of whom were in Big East Conference play. Four of those six losses were very close ones.

Adding to their woes is the loss of redshirt sophomore guard Marcus LoVett, who will be out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury suffered on November 26th against UCF in Orlando, Florida at the AdvoCare Invitational.

But those close losses have helped them get tougher, as evidenced by tonight’s game against Villanova, as they stayed in the game, but yet couldn’t get the victory in the end.

Villanova 78, St. John’s 71

In the beginning of the game, both teams traded baskets, whether it was with layups or three-point shots. But the Red Storm stayed resilient as they held the defending Big East champions to 5-for-19 shooting in the early minutes of the game.

Justin Simon plays defense on Villanova guard Jalen Brunson. (Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics)

But then through the play of redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo and redshirt junior Mikal Bridges, the Wildcats picked up the pace and helped themselves to a seven-point lead at halftime, 34-27.

In the second half, it was more of the same from Villanova, as they even went up ten multiple times. However, St. John’s answered with the outstanding play of sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds. While the rest of the Red Storm’s players had silent nights in regards to scoring, Ponds had the hot hand as he made jumpers, went to the lane at will and made clutch free throws when needed.

Due to the exploits of Ponds, St. John’s was able to get as close as four, 69-65, with 1:18 to go. However, foul calls went in Villanova’s favor and Bridges and junior guard Jalen Brunson helped make them pay as he made plenty of free throws to seal the deal.

Jalen Brunson with the up-and-under layup. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

DiVincenzo led the Wildcats with 25 points and seven rebounds, Bridges added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Brunson contributed 12 points and five assists. For St. John’s, Ponds led the way with 37 points.

In regards to tonight’s game, it was a tough battle for both teams. On a night when the Red Storm may or may not have been expected to contend with the top team in the nation, they answered the call by continuing to stay in the game in the second half.

“That was one of those ugly road victories you have to just take and go back and watch film and learn from it. I think the credit goes to St. John’s. I thought they were outstanding defensively. They did a really good job on our guards and keeping them out of the lane and creating turnovers.” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.

But even though the Red Storm lost another game, they must take solace in knowing that they proved they were able to compete with a top-tier team.

“I think this effort should get us wins. We played the No. 1 team in the country to a tie in the second half and then we were down four. That’s good effort and it’s winning basketball.” said St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin. “They are No. 1 and they are the best in the country and I am proud of my guys. Biggest thing is the effort is there and it has been there, but we have to do more winning plays, and I know we will get there, no question in my mind.”

Another thing to take away in this game was the performance of Ponds, who shone the brightest on the Garden floor. Fans applauded him with every basket made and he also fed off the energy off of the crowd.

“I tried to do whatever to help my team win. I tried to do what my team needed. Just to see the ball go in with a jump shot is good. I am not shooting well from the three but overall, I think I had a good game,” said Ponds.

Although he had a big game, it didn’t mean much to him because it wasn’t the outcome that he and the Red Storm expected. “Well, whatever my performance was, we didn’t get win, so I’m not satisfied,” he replied.

At the present time, all it will take for the Red Storm to do is to continue to grind it out every game and eventually, the outcome will go in their favor. But for now, St. John’s has to take things one game at a time.

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