Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics.
By David Cordova
When times are rough, one must realize that there is nowhere to go but up. Sure, they’ll take losses here and there, but without struggle there is no progress. Such is the case for one college basketball program located in Jamaica, Queens.
After a couple of losing seasons, the St. John’s Red Storm are on the right track this season, as they have been winning game after game. The Red Storm are now 9-0 for the first time since the 1990-91 season, and also for the third time since the 1986-87 season.
What’s the secret to the Red Storm’s success this season? New players & more experienced talent have meshed and using the cohesion to their advantage. Currently, there are five players averaging in double figures in scoring, one of them being junior point guard Shamorie Ponds, a preseason All-First Team Big East selection with 21.6 points per game.
The Red Storm showed how outstanding their play can be when they can be cohesive in their first game at Madison Square Garden this season in Sunday’s 89-74 win against Princeton at the annual MSG Holiday Festival.
Early on in the game, the Tigers would give the Red Storm a run for their money, as they kept making their shots and led 19-15, with 12:46 to go in the first half. Then St. John’s would go on a 15-9 rub to take a 34-24 lead, with 6:32 to go. However, Princeton would not die down easily, as they trailed, 41-38, at halftime.
In the second half. St. John’s would go on a huge run and would by as much as nineteen, 75-56, with more than eight minutes to go. But Princeton would surge back into the game with an 18-5 run, to cut the deficit to 80-74, with 3:41 to go. After that, the Red Storm would hold them scoreless and hang on to win.
“I think when we put those stretches together, the ball was moving, we were making shots but it also started with a nice stop and a rebound, so I thought tonight we did a good job on the boards. When we get out, get stops, and share we’re pretty exciting. We’re working toward being more consistent, working toward, 20, 25, 30, 40 minutes. But we see the potential. The players understand what the difference is and that’s why we practice and that’s why we rehearse and prepare. So I think that’s the exciting part for me is that we see what we can do. Doing it more consistently is our next step,” said fourth-year head coach Chris Mullin.
“I’d say just stay together. I feel like with a 9-0 record we can’t get content. We can’t get comfortable. I feel like we have a lot to improve, so we just have to keep pushing,” said Ponds when asked what needs to be done to be prepared for Big East play.
When asked the same question, Mullin replied, “The good thing is, it’s not a lot of major things. It’s a lot of small details that we work on every day and we will continue to get better at. I think we’re doing a lot of good things and it’s exciting that there’s room for improvement.”
“I thought we performed well in stretches. Like Coach (Mullin) said, we have a lot to improve on, but it’s nothing major. In my mind it’s all little things, just paying attention to minor details,” said senior forward Marvin Clark II. “Something so simple as realizing the game is not over. We got a little lax. Started trying to have too much fun on the break, even myself. I tried to push it and go behind the back. Luckily I dove on it and pushed it out, but just little things like that. I think once we figure out that once we get that lead, you start stepping on guys’ throats, that’s when we’ll reach our full potential.”
So far, things are looking up for the Red Storm. As the team with the best record in the Big East Conference and one of nine undefeated teams in the country, a lot is expected of St. John’s this year. Last season, they started conference play with a 10-2 record, and ended up going 4-14 in Big East play, and 16-17 overall. Like Ponds reiterated, this is no time for them to get content. There’s a lot of hard work to be done.
If there are two words to describe this campaign for the Red Storm this season it would be: Comeback Season. The reason being that the program is seeking their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2015. With a good conference record and some great wins against conference foes such as Villanova, Georgetown, Butler, Marquette and also a rematch of last year’s game against Duke, the No. 2 team in the nation on February 2nd at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, there’s no reason the Red Storm can’t make it back to the promised land.
With just three non-conference games to go against teams in the Northeast Conference such as Wagner, St. Francis Brooklyn and Sacred Heart, the Red Storm will be gearing up to start Big East play in Newark, New Jersey on December 29th against Seton Hall. On that date, it will be the Red Storm’s first true test as to whether they will succeed. But for right now, all looks well for St. John’s.