The St. John’s Red Storm were the last in and nearly the first out of the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday.
A short-lived trip to March Madness ended in Dayton as part of the First Four, where the Johnnies (21-13, 8-10 Big East) lost to Arizona State, who were subsequently bounced from the tournament by Buffalo on Friday.
St. John’s still hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2000, but did break the glass ceiling with Chris Mullin in his fourth year at the helm, as many expected they would leading up to this season.
However, the Red Storm could never truly establish a rhythm in their First Four opportunity against the Sun Devils, losing 74-65.
“It was probably one of our worst games of the season overall,” said Mullin candidly after the loss.
He did offer some praise for his squad on the way out, highlighting their collective drive and the talent in which they displayed on a nightly basis, despite the consistent rollercoaster outcomes.
“But I’ll tell you what, this was a really fun team to coach,” he added. “This wasn’t the most consistent, but they were really, really good guys to coach. I really appreciated their work ethic and the way they showed up each day whether or not we had a good loss or a bad win.”
All-Big East star junior Shamorie Ponds echoed the sentiments fired off by his head coach.
“This year was a great season,” offered the team’s leading scorer. “A lot of people doubted us and didn’t expect us to be here. But I feel like overall it was a great season. I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy.”
Ponds, who entered the NBA Draft last spring before electing to return to school, is viewed as a second-round draft pick, with the possibility of rising into the tail-end of round one with positive work between now and June’s draft, assuming he enters.
Though his scoring numbers dipped slightly from 21.6 to 19.7 points per game – perhaps due to the elevated talent around him – he did improve as a playmaker, dishing out a career-best 5.1 assists per game this season.
The assists came in two fewer minutes per game (37 last year to 35 this year), which awarded him nearly six assists per 40 minutes.
Ponds also became more efficient from the floor, hitting 45.4 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three this season. Last year, amidst Marcus LoVett’s abrupt departure, Ponds finished the season shooting 42 percent from the floor and only 25.3 percent from three. Ponds also led the Big East in steals at 2.6 per game.
Asked if he’ll return for next season, the tight-lipped Brooklynite offered a simple response.
“No comment,” he said.
If he does choose to return, St. John’s will have expectations of making the NCAA Tournament again.
If Ponds decides to leave and take advantage of what is perceived to be a weaker draft class, the roster will suddenly become the program’s biggest void to fill.
The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows players to withdraw from the draft twice, as long as they don’t sign with an agent, meaning Ponds could follow the same foundation he established last season, where he gathered valuable information working out with teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.
Also, effective for the first time this season, a player who declares for the draft will maintain his college eligibility if he signs with an agent following an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, even if he goes undrafted.
If the player go undrafted, he can return to his school for at least one year if he terminates all agreements with his agent.
Ponds can declare at any time, but will have until May 29 to pull out and return to school. Here we go again...again.