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Thursday / August 13.
  • St. John’s guards are going to be a problem for the rest of the Big East

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    PISCATAWAY, N.J. — St. John’s guards are going to be a problem for the rest of the Big East.

    That was one big takeaway from Rutgers’ dramatic 80-78 victory over the Red Storm in Sunday’s charity exhibition game at the Rutgers Athletic Center that raised money for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

    Rutgers was propelled by Deshawn Freeman’s 28 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists and won the game on Issa Thiam’s putback with 2.8 seconds remaining. But before that the St. John’s backcourt trio of Shamorie Ponds, Marcus LoVett and Arizona transfer Justin Simon combined for 54 points, 19 rebounds and 8 assists.

    “I played against all great guards, but these guys are shifty, they can create their own shot, they’re just different players,” said Rutgers guard Corey Sanders, who went for 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. “They hunt for theirs and they’re going to go at you. They’re not going to back down.”

    When I asked what the St. John’s guards were going to do to other Big East teams, Sanders said without pausing, “Oh, I mean they’re going to give them hell. Those guys are tremendous.”

    Ponds, the sophomore out of Brooklyn, had himself a day, going for 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting, along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists to go with just 1 turnover. LoVett tallied 16 points and 5 rebounds, and Simon, who also started in coach Chris Mullin’s three-guard lineup, added 13 points and 7 rebounds.

    “I like those three guys together, they play well together,” Mullin said. “They had pretty good nights, I thought. In the second half we just kind of let up defensively. They shot 68 percent in the second half.”

    St. John’s led 35-30 at the break but Rutgers came on strong in the second half, outscoring the Red Storm, 50-43.

    For most of the game, Ponds had his way with the Rutgers backcourt. He scored back-to-back buckets to put St. John’s up, 78-77, with 1:05 remaining.

    “The shots that Ponds was hitting, the way they get to the cup, so they can do it all,” Sanders said. “They are going to be a tough matchup for anybody to play against.”

    Said Rutgers freshman guard Geo Baker (4 points, 3 assists) of the St. John’s guards: “They’re really tough, man. We knew it coming in, we knew what they like to do. They attack, they got a little boogie to their game. Even when you’re right there, it’s tough. But we played them really hard.”

    St. John’s — picked sixth in the 10-team Big East — will likely go as far this season as their guards take them.

    Ponds told me at Big East Media Day that their season would be a “bust” if they failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

    For the Red Storm, it remains an open question how much production they will get out of their front court. Their starting front court of Bashir Ahmed and Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark Jr. shot a combined 4-of-17 for 15 points with 9 rebounds.

    In a pattern reminiscent of last year, St. John’s bigs off the bench didn’t do much. Tariq Owens and Kassoum Yakwe combined for just 1 point and 6 rebounds.

    So it will be up to Ponds and his backcourt mates to lead the way for St. John’s this season, NCAA Tournament or bust.


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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.