Johnnies Roll Marquette Behind Balanced Attack
The allure of lacing up as the home team inside Madison Square Garden has long been one of the key selling points for the St. John’s program, which plays a handful of home games in the legendary building. A stench of losing has lived in their locker room in recent years with a victory inside MSG eluding the Red Storm since a triumph over in-state Syracuse in December 2015.
SJU Coach Chris Mullin can now turn the page as that losing streak ended Wednesday with a convincing performance against a rising Marquette team that boasts victories over top-ranked Villanova and No. 7 Creighton on its resume. The second-year coach watched his team shoot 58 percent in the first half before four double-digit scorers powered an 86-72 decision.
The freshman backcourt stuffed the stat sheet, Shamorie Ponds totaling 18 points, seven rebounds, four steals, plus timing five assists to one turnover, meanwhile his counterpart, Marcus LoVett, added 17 points (3-of-5 3-PT FG) five assists and three steals. But for the first time in a while, they received needed help from a pair of fellow starters.
Bronx native Bashir Ahmed erupted for a career-high 23 points (8-of-17 FG) and grabbed six rebounds as he punished Marquette both inside (he earned five free throws) and out (also made a pair of 3’s). Although Ahmed, a junior college transfer who once starred in the New York City public school league, has proven to be a capable scorer, seeing him put together an efficient outing like Wednesday was promising.
Even more promising? The play of forward Kassoum Yakwe who has seemingly regressed in his second season under Mullin. The Mali native, who also played his high school ball in New York (Our Savior New American), broke out of a season-long shell of reluctancy and uncertainty to drop 14 points on 6-of-11 while imposing his presence elsewhere, picking up six rebounds and three blocks.
“In my mind, I just told myself to keep playing hard,” Yakwe said. “I was really focused on getting on the board and being more aggressive on the offensive side too. Our guards were finding me in the right spot. It’s a team game. When we play together, we get a good result.
“I know I wasn’t playing well like I did last year, but I just kept practicing and it was going to happen sometime. I just kept practicing and playing hard and one day I knew I would get a good result. Today was a perfect moment for me.”
A 13-0 run in the second half stretched St. John’s lead to 17 and, although the Golden Eagles wouldn’t go down easily — eventually closing the gap to as little as seven — the Red Storm sealed their fifth Big East win in what Mullin labeled “probably our best 40 minute, complete game performance.”
“We’re definitely a different team when Kassoum is on fire like he was today, and Bashir as well,” said LoVett. “We have so many players that can really score the ball that you can’t just look at Shamorie and I. You have to look at people like Kassoum and Bashir and guys like Malik [Ellison] and Federico [Mussini] and all the guys. We have a lot of weapons on this team, we just have to know how to use them.”