Dec. 6, 2017
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PHOENIX - Playing without the services of Marcus LoVett in a hostile environment, the St. John's men's basketball team held off a late push from Grand Canyon to improve to 8-1 with a 68-60 victory on Tuesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds proved magnificent once again for the Red Storm, tallying 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including a 2-for-5 effort from three-point range. In addition to his scoring touch, Ponds also recorded six rebounds, five steals and four assists in a full 40 minutes of action. The Brooklyn native has now eclipsed the 20-point plateau in six of the team's nine games this season with three performances of 26 or better.
Justin Simon turned in a career-best performance against preseason WAC favorite GCU (5-2), posting his third double-double of the campaign with 11 boards and a career-high 17 points. The redshirt sophomore guard from Temecula, Calif., made four of his seven attempts from the field and converted on all eight of his tries from the charity stripe.
Bashir Ahmed added seven points and matched a career-high with 10 boards, while Marvin Clark II finished in double figures for sixth time this season with 10 points.
Entering the game ranked seventh in the nation in turnovers forced per game (20.3), the Johnnies played a part in 21 GCU miscues, marking the team's seventh effort this season with at least 20 opposing turnovers. The Red Storm converted those extra possessions into 22 points.
One of the nation's top defenses on more than one front, St. John's held an opponent to 60 points or fewer for the sixth time this season. GCU converted on just 30 percent of its tries from the floor (20-of-66) and 25 percent of its chance from downtown (8-of-32).
Down 5-2 just over two minutes into the contest, St. John's rattled off an 8-0 run to take a 10-5 lead about three minutes later. Clark and Ahmed nailed triples during the tear, while Simon added a layup. St. John's would not trail again for the remainder of the contest.
Following a free throw from GCU, the Johnnies responded with seven additional unanswered points, extending their run to 13-1 overall and taking a 15-6 lead with 12:39 to play in the half. The Red Storm held the Lopes without a field goal for 7:56 during that stretch.
GCU responded with five in a row to cut the St. John's lead to four, but the Johnnies answered with a 10-3 tear to take an 11-point edge, 25-14, following back-to-back triples from Simon and Ponds. Simon scored the other four points from the free throw line during the Johnnies' run.
With the Red Storm leading by 10 following a Ponds jumper with 2:53 to go in the half, GCU made four of their next five tries from the floor, firing off an 8-0 run and moving within two, 29-27, with 1:13 to play in the opening stanza.
With the advantage down to just a pair, Ponds had a 1-for-2 trip to the line, missing his first free throw in 32 tries, before adding another jumper and pushing the St. John's edge to five, 32-27, at the break.
St. John's quickly built its lead back to nine, 41-32, on the other side of the intermission following a pair of Clark free throws with just over four minutes gone in the period.
GCU whittled the St. John's advantage down to five, 41-36, but St. John's responded with a 7-0 run to take its largest lead of the game to that point, 48-36, with 10:04 to go. Ponds scored the first five points of the run before Kassoum Yakwe capped it off with a bucket through contact.
St. John's built its lead up to as many as 16, 56-40, following two-straight buckets from Simon just inside the seven-minute mark, but GCU had one final push left in the tank. The Lopes cut the Red Storm lead to as little as seven on two occasions down the stretch, but the Johnnies held off GCU and escaped the desert with a 68-60 victory.
The Red Storm returns to action on Friday night in Los Angeles, taking on No. 16/17 Arizona State in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at the STAPLES Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on the Pac-12 Network and 970 AM WNYM.