Redemption Time is Now or Never for St. John’s in First Four Matchup

DAYTON, OH- The season officially begins for the St. John’s Red Storm (21-12, 8-10), as they head to Dayton as the #47 seeded squad, but the last one officially picked by the committee on “Selection Sunday” over the likes of UNC Greensboro, fellow Big East foe Creighton, and Alabama. The Johnnies are matched up against the brother UConn coach Dan Hurley, Bobby. The contest is slated to begin around 9:10 p.m. following the North Dakota State/NC Central showdown.


Head Coach Chris Mullin has been criticized on numerous occasions for his lack of discipline with his players, along with not bringing the team together as a group looking to win. Superstar junior guard Shamorie Ponds was quoted following the defeat against Georgetown in January, “I feel like as a team we’re parting ways. We’re not as together as we were in the beginning.”


Things have not been playing out too well for the all-time great on Utopia this conference season, as Mullin’s squad hobbles into the 2019 NCAA Tournament “First Four” with a 25-point loss to Marquette in the Big East Tournament on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, and a tough loss coming against Xavier in Cincinnati on national television the final day of the regular season. Coming into the second home of the Johnnies on a “neutral floor”, the Red Storm sported a 3-2 record this season at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, with victories coming against Seton Hall, Princeton, and a 19-point rally against the reigning national champions, Villanova on February 17.


Much speculation was put to rest immediately after the Bulls of Buffalo were selected as the 6 seeded squad. Heading into the final quadrant of the bracket, many thought it was UNC Greensboro, or the former mentioned above. As a member of the Auburn Tigers, junior guard Mustapha Heron was about his emotions following the announcement, “Not really nervous. We are just excited to go and play basketball in March. We just talked about hos not many teams make it, just 68 teams. To be one of those is exciting.”


The appearance this season in the First Four becomes the first in the Mullin coaching regime, as former coach and now FOX/Turner Sports analyst Steve Lavin took the Johnnies to the field of 68 in his final season as coach in 2014-15. The expectations have been sky high for the NBA hall-of-famer, as he comes in with executive experience as the former Golden State Warriors general manager. Mullin spoke about how this wait felt a lot like the NBA Draft, when he was waiting to get his name called, and had never been a part of the NCAA selection show jitters. “I had never been through that before. I’ve been through a lot of tough losses and great wins, sitting at the NBA draft but that was authentic emotion. They popped up so fast that I couldn’t see the screen. To me, that was a new experience. The guys will remember this.”


Heading into the tournament, Chris Mullin was criticized by the media about his comments regarding players needing a break, “away from each other”. Many would speculate that there are locker room troubles, and players dislike one another. Being asked following the Marquette loss what they’re all going to do for Selection Sunday, “I told my guys to take a break. They need a break mentally, physically, and a little break from each other, and we’ll get back together on Sunday.” Many used those words with Duke’s head coach Mike Krzyzewski following the ACC championship, “The beautiful thing about them is that they’re the easiest group I’ve had to coach. And they love one-another and they listen.”


A season ago, the Johnnies met No. 16/17 Arizona State in a crucial showdown of 8-win teams looking for their ninth respectively. The Sun Devils outplayed the Red Storm in the first of the contest that took place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and while St. John’s put forth a 36-point second half effort, they were outdueled by Bobby Hurley and his southwest squad. Shamorie Ponds led the way with 19 points, while Marvin Clark II was one point behind him with 18. Former forward, and now Texas Tech Red Raider, Tariq Owens tallied 17 and swatted away three. This will be the third all-time meeting between the two school’s (1-1). Their lone victory came on November 28, 2010 in the Norm Roberts era, for a 67-58 victory over the Sun Devils.


Following the contest on Wednesday evening, the Johnnies have the opportunity to advance to Tulsa, and face the 6-seeded Buffalo Bulls in the west region side of the bracket, which would be played Friday afternoon.


“Same feeling as November 6th. It’s a 0-0 clean start.” Mustapha Heron says.

Joseph Jarzynka