St. John’s avenged last month’s dismal loss at Seton Hall with an energizing 78-70 victory over the Pirates Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Marcus LoVett led the way for the Red Storm, who placed four players in double figures. The redshirt freshman paced all scorers with 19 points, and added six assists along with five rebounds. Fellow freshman Shamorie Ponds followed with 17, while Bashir Ahmed and Tariq Owens added 11 and 10 respectively.
Owens completed the double-double – the second of his career – with 12 rebounds, and kicked off the Red Storm’s first half surge with a blocked shot followed by a highlight-reel dunk as he came flying in to slam home a missed shot on the other end.
“Tariq always has a huge impact on the game whether he scores or not,” head coach Chris Mullin said of the redshirt sophomore. “He brought energy in the building and our team too. From there, our defense picked up and our pressure forced some turnovers.”
The Red Storm’s active hands forced Seton Hall into 18 turnovers and led to a 30-5 advantage for St. John’s in points off turnovers. It was the Johnnies’ fifth consecutive game forcing at least 17 turnovers.
“We just shared the ball and defensively we stepped up,” LoVett added. “We just wanted to get as many steals and deflections as we could.”
The Pirates held sway most of the first half, but LoVett’s jumper with 3:40 remaining in the first half gave St. John’s a lead it would never relinquish. The Red Storm rode a 16-3 run into a 10-point lead at the break, and pushed their advantage to as much as 16 in the second half.
Angel Delgado, who torched the Johnnies to the tune of 20 points and 21 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting, was held largely in check. The junior, who leads the nation in rebounding at 13.2 per game, was limited to three points and six rebounds in the first half.
“They played bigger,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said of St. Johns’ adjustment from the last meeting. “They started Ahmed at the four last time. Now when you put Owens and [Kassoum] Yakwe out there, they have two shot-blockers out there. I thought them playing big was a bit of a difference.”
Delgado did eventually turn it on in the second half, and finished the game with his 19th double-double of the season on 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“He’s tough, he’s going to figure out a way to get his points and rebounds,” Mullin said of Delgado. “You want to focus on him and not let him dominate you, but it’s probably as important not concentrating too much on him and letting someone else get off. I thought we did a good job of concentrating on him but also playing solid on the other players.”
Four other Pirates joined Delgado in double-figures, led by Desi Rodriguez with 17. Khadeen Carrington notched 14 while freshman Myles Powell matched Delgado’s 13, with 12 coming in the second half. Sophomore Michael Nzei posted his second double-double of the year on 11 points and 12 boards.
The Red Storm’s active defense held Seton Hall to 0.95 points per possession for the game after limiting the Pirates to a meager 0.73 in the first half. St. John’s finished the contest at a rate of 1.07.
A standout figure on the Red Storm’s scoresheet is their 3-point shooting. The Johnnies were just 3-11 from behind the arc, with that trio of makes representing their lowest figure of the season. Part of that was a focus on getting in the paint, but it still shows St. John’s is capable of winning without being reliant on the long ball.
“Part of our approach today was to get into the paint,” Mullin added. “They’re more position defenders and not a lot of shot blockers, and they don’t foul a lot.”
With the win, St. John’s improves to 6-7 in Big East play and – combined with a Marquette loss to Georgetown – into fifth place in the league standings despite listing just one senior on their roster. The Red Storm certainly appear headed in the right direction.
Whether they are able to compete down the stretch and make noise in the Big East tournament is yet to be determined, but the head coach is at least one believer in the young team’s potential.
“I feel like if we play really tough defense – just smart and tough and show some resistance – and we play unselfish on the offensive end, I think we can play with just about anybody,” Mullin said. “We’ve shown we can be dangerous to our opponents or we can be dangerous to ourselves. I’m just trying to make sure we’re dangerous to our opponents more often.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.