St. John’s stuns defending national champs
by Bryan Fonseca
Feb 19, 2019 | 1215 views | 0 0 comments | 133 133 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mustapha Heron fights for a loose ball in Sunday's win over Villanova. (Photo: STJ Athletics)
Mustapha Heron fights for a loose ball in Sunday's win over Villanova. (Photo: STJ Athletics)
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After trailing by as many as 19 points midway through the first half, the St. John’s Red Storm rallied in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,600 to upset the number-13 ranked Villanova Wildcats in Madison Square Garden on Sunday, 71-65.

The win puts St. John’s at 19-7 on the season, and improves their Big East record to 7-6. The Red Storm now stand alone in third place in the league, while holding victories over each of the conference’s top two teams. They have already defeated second place Marquette twice this season.

Considering the New York Knicks are 11-47 and haven’t won at MSG since December 1, basketball fans at the World’s Most Famous Arena haven’t had much to applaud.

“The energy was crazy,” said St. John’s swingman Mustapha Heron, who had 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting and hit 7-of-8 free throws. “I’ve never played in anything like this. The fans came out and they were amped. I think we gave them what they deserved and it was a good team win that we worked hard for.”

“I’m happy they got to experience a night like tonight,” said coach Chris Mullin. “There are a lot of resilient guys in our locker room. That’s not a game we win maybe a month ago.”

 In the win, the Johnnies were also able to showcase their depth, which made up for their lack of size and the lack of efficiency their star guard Shamorie Ponds displayed on Sunday.

Ponds struggled offensively, scoring 11 and shooting only 2-of-14 from the field, but he did manage to hit 7-of-8 free throws while setting up his teammates. First-year Johnnie LJ Figueroa elevated his level of play, leading the team with 22 points, 16 of which came in the second half.

“It says we’ve got much better players around Ponds, and two of them are Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa,” said Mullin. “I thought Justin Simon did a good job getting the tempo going.

“These guys have continued to improve individually, but I think they feel better about themselves as a group,” Mullin added. “You see that on the defensive end first and foremost. Offensively, they’ve always been good about sharing the ball, sometimes it takes a little bit of time to figure out where those shots are coming from. I thought Shamorie did a good job of maintaining his playmaking and not forcing it.”

Only five games separate the Red Storm from the Big East Tournament, which begins on March 13 at MSG.

Down the stretch, the Johnnies return to the Garden once more, this coming Saturday night, where they’ll face fellow NCAA Tournament hopeful Seton Hall. The New York-New Jersey rivalry could one-up Sunday’s atmosphere inside of MSG.
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