– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — As St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds dribbled the ball in the frontcourt during the final seconds and his team down by a point, the promising NBA prospect who appears to have a lot of basketball success laying in wait ahead of him thought about one of the lowest experiences he ever had on the basketball court, vowing never to let it happen once again on the same exact court.
Ponds rewrote a little bit of personal history on Tuesday night, as his runner off the glass with 4.8 seconds left in overtime capped an awe-inspiring 24 hours for him and gave the Red Storm an 87-86 victory over the VCU Rams in the championship game of the GotPrint.com Legends Classic. In the two games at Barclays Center, Ponds combined to score 67 points, including 35 against the Rams.
Ponds, a native of Brooklyn, admitted that in the moments right before his game-winning basket, he had thoughts of another nail-biter he was a part of at Barclays Center go through his mind, when his Thomas Jefferson High School team lost by a point in the PSAL championship game in 2014 against Queens’ Cardozo High School.
“In high school, my team and I lost the state championship game on a buzzer-beater. Coming down to the last shot, I replayed that in my head, how we lost in the Barclays and I didn’t want to go out like that,” Ponds said. “I’m just happy we’re champs.”
The championship that the Red Storm won tonight continues to raise the profile of the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, who, along with his 35 points tonight, added seven assists, seven steals and four rebounds.
“He’s put on a show. He played at one of the highest levels I’ve seen in a 24-hour span,” St. John’s head coach and Brooklyn native Chris Mullin said. “It wasn’t only his shot making. Tonight he had seven steals, seven assists, and has been clutch, hitting two-straight game-winners. I haven’t seen a guard play like that in 24 hours.”
Optimism continues to rise among Red Storm supporters — as well as the hypertension. On Monday, Ponds hit a step-back three-pointer with 1:06 remaining to seal the win against California in the semifinals, a game which St. John’s trailed 67-60 with six minutes left. St. John’s also came back from a seven-point second-half deficit tonight, as the game went to overtime after VCU guard Marcus Evans split a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining in regulation and the Rams down one.
Down by one on its last possession, there was no suspense as to who was going to get the ball for St. John’s (5-0), and Ponds delivered with a trademark drive to the basket before uncorking a high-arching shot that banked off the glass and splashed through the net. VCU raced up the court, but Evans’ straightaway three-pointer at the buzzer came up short to give the Red Storm a very meaningful in-season championship.
“I grew up down the block on Flatbush Avenue. So to me, the fact that this building is here is pretty amazing,” Mullin said. “When this whole thing came together, I honestly thought it was a miracle. I remember when people who never have thought that there would be a beautiful arena and a professional team in Brooklyn. They would’ve thought you were crazy. It’s beautiful. My memories of Brooklyn are all good and winning this tournament feels amazing.”
VCU (4-1) was led by guard Isaac Vann, who scored 30 points tonight and, along with Ponds, was named to the all-tournament team. Evans, who scored 21 points in the Rams’ semifinal win over Temple, was held to 12 points by the Red Storm.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by A Lot of Sports Talk senior photographer Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 28 pictures in total.