St. John’s picked up its fifth Big East win of the season with an 86-72 victory over Marquette Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Marquette, entering off a narrow loss to Providence preceded by impressive victories over #1 Villanova and on the road at #7 Creighton, held sway for most of the first half, but a 10-2 St. John’s rush to end the half gave the Red Storm a lead they would never relinquish.
Within that run came a string of seven consecutive points from stellar freshman Shamorie Ponds. The Brooklyn native buried a 3-pointer to push St. Johns’ lead to four, then followed that score with a pair of steals capped by breakaway baskets leading into the intermission.
Kassoum Yakwe also played a starring role in the opening stanza, as he recorded 12 of his 14 points in the first frame. The sophomore forward fell two points shy of a career high, but his first half output alone surpassed his previous personal best this season (8 vs. Penn State on December 18).
“Today was a perfect moment for me,” Yakwe said. “I played my ass off, and we had a win.”
Yakwe singlehandedly kept the Red Storm within striking distance early, as he scored eight straight St. John’s points midway through the first half to keep the Marquette lead within one possession.
“Like most young players, when he gets off to a good start it helps,” head coach Chris Mullin said of Yakwe. “When he’s involved in the offense it helps. I think there’s been some games where he’s played well and the numbers haven’t shown that, but tonight he got big, confident, and more decisive.”
A Malik Ellison 3-pointer to open the second half pushed St. Johns’ lead to 11, but the Golden Eagles quickly cut the deficit to just four thanks to a quartet of their own long range strikes. However, soon after Mullin called timeout, Ellison sparked a 13-0 Red Storm run to give St. John’s their largest lead of the night at 17 with 12:08 remaining.
Bashir Ahmed and Marcus LoVett followed Ellison’s layup with individual runs of six and five respectively to cap that 13-0 flurry. Ahmed ended the night with a career-high 23 points while LoVett added 17, with 15 of those coming in the second half.
“We’re definitely a different team when Kassoum is on fire like how he was today, and Bashir as well,” LoVett said of his teammates. “We’ve got so many players that can really score the ball that you can’t just look at me and Shamorie. You have to look at people like Kassoum and Bashir, guys like Malik and Federico [Mussini]. We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team. We just have to know how to use them.”
The Red Storm endured one lone moment of panic the rest of the way, as their big run was followed by a 10-0 Marquette spree to get the Golden Eagles within seven with 8:45 to play.
It was then Mussini’s turn to step up. The sophomore buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to stop the bleeding, and accounted for all six of the team’s bench points on the night.
“Tonight was probably our best 40 minute performance, complete game,” Mullin said. “Guys got each other involved, had a good first half, a little struggle in the second half. The zone bothered us for a little while, but it didn’t take away from their effort. They managed to get through it and get control back in the game.”
St. John’s matched a season-high with 40 rebounds, narrowly winning the battle of the boards by one. However, rebounding had been a struggle for the team of late. In three of their six games prior to Wednesday, the Red Storm had been out-rebounded by 18 or more, resulting in losses by an average of 15.3 points in those contests.
Redshirt sophomore Tariq Owens matched a career high with 11 rebounds to lead the effort, earning praise from his coach along with fellow reserve Darien Williams after the game.
“I thought Tariq and Darien had a huge impact on the game without hitting a shot,” Mullin said of the duo. “I thought they were really big on defense. Darien got no rebounds, but I thought he was huge boxing out and clearing space so someone else could get it. Tariq finishes with 11 rebounds and no points, but had a huge impact.”
The Red Storm will look to build off their impressive win over Marquette with an even tougher task this weekend as the team travels to Philadelphia to take on #4 Villanova Saturday night seeking to even their record in Big East play.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.