In their first game against a ranked opponent this season, St. John’s (8-2) put together an impressive performance without their second best player Marcus LoVett, but fell to Arizona State at the Staples Center, 82-70.
The Johnnies were led by two big men, Marvin Clark II (18 points and seven rebounds) and Tariq Owens (17 points on 8-of-10 shooting), for a change. Shamorie Ponds (19 points on 6-of-23 shooting) struggled for the majority of the evening, while Bashir Ahmed only put up seven points on 1-of-8 shooting and fouled out late in the second half.
For the Sun Devils, Romello White was the team’s leading scorer with 22 points. ASU’s top scorer this year, Tra Holder (seven points), was bothered by the Johnnies’ length defensively, so Shannon Evans picked up the slack, dropping 18 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out six assists.
St. John’s was trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, but Arizona State had a 3:24 scoring drought to end the opening frame. Chris Mullin’s unit battled back to make it a one-point game with 2:44 left, however, Justin Simon threw a poor pass to Ponds that went out of bounds.
That late-game turnover changed the momentum of the game as Kodi Justice (15 points) knocked down an open three and White finished a layup on the following possession.
From there, Bobby Hurley’s unit iced the game at the free throw line.
St. John’s will have more than a week off before they face Iona at Madison Square Garden next Sunday. Meanwhile, ASU will face Kansas at The Phog on Sunday afternoon.
St. John’s is a dangerous crew despite the loss
The Johnnies are going to be a nuisance to play in the Big East. Not only are their guards (Ponds, Simon and LoVett, who didn’t play on Friday) quick and athletic, but their defense is even more impressive than expected.
Arizona State came into Friday evening’s game averaging 93 points per game. The Johnnies held them to 82.
Holder came into Friday averaging 22 points a night. SJU was physical and used their size advantage against ASU’s best player. He shot just 2-of-12 from the field and looked uncomfortable all game long.
Most importantly, St. John’s showed maturity and progressions with their effort level and intensity. Mullin’s team could have easily mailed in the rest of the game after falling down by 18. Instead, they buckled down and mucked up the game, forcing ASU to take tough shots.
Their offense is still a work in progress, but when LoVett comes back, they will have enough weapons to complement their newfound defensive mindset nicely. Offensive output doesn’t seem to be an issue in the long run.
Tariq Owens: Have yourself a night
Since Owens became eligible last season, he was never counted on as a scorer or a main offensive weapon. While Owens always puts forth 110% of his effort every time he steps on the floor, they don’t run plays for him on offense and he certainly doesn’t possess consistent post moves.
But Owens showed some of his potential on Friday evening. He was the team’s third-leading scorer, which included a long two-point and a surprising three that looked good as soon as it left his hands.
We know Owens is going to block shots, play with energy, run the floor and be a force defensively. But if Owens can find a way to stretch the floor and provide production up front, this makes the Johnnies that much more dangerous.
Free throws, poor shooting did Johnnies in
St. John’s missed nine free throws and Ponds and Ahmed shot a combined 7-of-31 from the field.
That’s not going to cut it against the No. 16 team in the country.
The late turnover from Simon was brutal and their slow start was major issue, but free throws and poor shooting was the main reason the Johnnies recorded their second loss of the campaign.
Arizona State could win the Pac-12
The Pac-12 is down this season. Arizona lost three games in the Bahamas and is still trying to figure out their identity. UCLA lost three freshmen to suspension, which has been a distraction to their team. Cal got blown out by both Chaminade and Central Arkansas. USC doesn’t look like themselves without De’Anthony Melton. Oregon is rebuilding. And Oregon State and Stanford aren’t as good as expected.
Other than Washington winning at Kansas and Washington State beating Saint Mary’s, the only positive news for the Pac-12 as of late has been the play of Arizona State.
They are the real deal, which means they very well could win the Pac-12 and at the very least, finish second behind Arizona.
The Sun Devils are one of the best offensive teams in the country as they possess two elite guards, who can shoot and break down the defense, and shooters all over the floor. White and Remy Martin are special youngsters and Ohio State transfer Mickey Mitchell and four-star freshman Kimani Lawrence haven’t played a second because of transfer rules and injuries respectively.
If Arizona State gets better defensively and they are able to overcome their lack of big game/NCAA Tournament experience, they can truly be a top 15 team for the remainder of the season.