– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
WASHINGTON — The more that the St. John’s basketball team has had its collective back against the wall this season, the more it has thrived under that pressure, and its latest escape act put an end to a 16-year hex in one of the storied college basketball rivalries on the East Coast.
Shamorie Ponds scored 37 points and had a key steal on the defensive end during the overtime session as the Red Storm, once down 11 in the first half and behind by eight points halfway through the second, came from behind to defeat Georgetown 97-94 on Saturday afternoon, St. John’s’ first win in the nation’s capital against the Hoyas since 2003.
Each of the other starters for St. John’s — Justin Simon, Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa — scored in double figures as the Red Storm improve to 14-1, their best start to a season since the 1985-86 campaign.
The comeback was another Houdini act executed to perfection by the Red Storm, who have come back from second-half deficits of at least seven points to win on five separate occasions this season, including a home victory over Bowling Green after being 11 points down and against Georgia Tech in Miami after spotting the Yellow Jackets a 16-point advantage in the second half.
“It helps tremendously,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said about the amount of close games the REd Storm have played this season. “Not just this year, for guys like Shamorie [Ponds], Justin [Simon], Marvin [Clark II] and Mustapha [Heron], this is their third year of playing competitive college basketball and they’ve all seen a lot of different situations. Having them helps steady everybody else. This season we’ve played a lot of close games, even early games so they’re all good experiences to look back on.”
St. John’s still was down four with 15 seconds remaining but, after two free throws from Ponds cut Georgetown’s lead to two, Figueroa came up with a steal and was fouled by Hoyas guard Jahvon Blair with 11 seconds left. Figueroa made his two free throws to tie the game at 85, and Blair’s missed three on the next possession sent the game to overtime.
Simon and Figueroa alternated setting the other up on alley-oop dunks on the Red Storm’s first two possessions of OT before Clark II hit a three to give the Red Storm at 92-86 lead. St. John’s was up 94-90 with 1:20 remaining when Georgetown had a 2-on-1 fast break, but Ponds leaped to steal an alley-oop pass by James Akinjo, setting up a fast break for the Red Storm. Figueroa once again threw an alley-oop pass that Simon slammed home to complete the four-point swing.
“Coming off the pick and roll, I took a bad shot. I tried to make it up to my teammates,” Ponds said about what led up to his game-changing steal. “I kind of saw it coming. He picked up his dribble and I anticipated the pass.”
Though realignment in the Big East Conference over the past two decades no longer saw the two teams play a round-robin against each other for a number of years, the Red Storm were desperate to finally secure in the nation’s capital.
“We were definitely aware of it,” Ponds said. “We talked about it after we got the win. We fought and came out with a win.”
All five starters for Georgetown also scored in double figures, led by center Jessie Govan’s 25 points and 10 rebounds. However, the Hoyas were undone by turnovers: 17 giveaways led to 24 points scored by the Red Storm, who also outscored Georgetown 17-0 on fast break points.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday afternoon’s game, with all photos taken by DC-Area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. 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 currently 15 pictures in total.