Marquette Wire

PREVIEW: Shamorie Ponds provides matchup nightmare for Golden Eagles

Shamorie+Ponds+%28left%29+defends+Marquette%27s+Andrew+Rowsey+in+a+game+last+season.+Rowsey+and+Ponds+combined+for+78+points+today.
Shamorie Ponds (left) defends Marquette's Andrew Rowsey in a game last season. Rowsey and Ponds combined for 78 points today.

Shamorie Ponds (left) defends Marquette's Andrew Rowsey in a game last season. Rowsey and Ponds combined for 78 points today.

Photo by Wire Stock Photo

Photo by Wire Stock Photo

Shamorie Ponds (left) defends Marquette's Andrew Rowsey in a game last season. Rowsey and Ponds combined for 78 points today.

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St. John’s enters its Saturday contest against Marquette with a woeful 1-11 conference record, yet one could hardly tell based on comments from other BIG EAST coaches.

Xavier head coach Chris Mack described the Red Storm as “the most athletic team in the league” and “a team that has really potent backcourt players.”

Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said St. John’s is “probably the hottest team in America.”

St. John’s has earned that praise coming off wins against No. 4 Duke and No. 1 Villanova. Sophomore point guard Shamorie Ponds is at the heart of the Red Storm’s recent red-hot performances, averaging 20.5 points per game, second in the BIG EAST only to Marquette’s Markus Howard. 

“You can do a great job containing him off the dribble, stopping him, and then he can take what is normally described as a bad shot and make it consistently,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said a day after Ponds scored 26 points to dethrone Wright’s top-ranked group.

Ponds has scored 90 points in the Red Storm’s last three games, all of which were against top-six teams.

“Shamorie has a great feel for the game, great instincts, and he is going to attack at the rim,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said. “He’s a good shooter and dynamic scorer. And he has the ball in his hands a lot, so he’s a tough cover.”

Ponds’ ability to penetrate defenses forces guards to foul him and prevent the easy basket. Ponds averages 5.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes while only committing 1.9 fouls per 40 minutes.

“He’s clever,” Mullin said. “When he’s getting to the rim, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”

Ponds has done all of this despite an intense workload. Mullin has not given him a minute on the bench since Jan. 27 against Butler. He averages 36.4 minutes per game in 2017-’18 and has played at least 38 minutes in eight of St. John’s last 11 games.

“(Ponds is) playing a lot of minutes, but he looks really fresh physically,” Mullin said. “Creating separation, getting to the rim and he’s done a really good job of mixing up when he’s an aggressive scorer.”

Meanwhile, Marquette’s guard defense has been lacking. An opposing guard has scored 15-plus points in 20 of the Golden Eagles’ 23 games this season. That includes a 39-point performance by LSU’s Tremont Waters, a 37-point performance by Providence’s Kyron Cartwright and a 31-point performance by Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. 

If Marquette double-teams Ponds, St. John’s has other weapons in the backcourt, too. Redshirt sophomore Justin Simon is one of them; he averages 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season while shooting 45.1 percent from the field.

“I know Justin Simon is not the best shooter in our league by any stretch, but he is one of the better playmakers,” Mack said. “He can do it all. He can rebound, he can get in the lane and see over the defense, he can find guys. He has great vision.”

St. John’s also has one of the most efficient defenses in the country. Per KenPom, a prominent college basketball analytics site, the Red Storm rank ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency this season.

“They make it very difficult on you to run your offense and score the basketball,” Wojo said. “Their length and athleticism causes a great deal of disruption on the defensive end, so your ability to take care of the basketball is paramount in a game like this.”

Wojo praised his team’s “toughness and poise” following the Seton Hall win, but it’ll take much more to withstand the Red Storm Saturday.

“We know that we have our work cut out for us,” Wojo said.

Tipoff is slated for 11 a.m. Central time. The game will be aired on FOX Sports Wisconsin. Follow @MUWireSports on Twitter for in-game updates.

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