At the end of the first-half scoring surge that decided Wednesday’s Big East showdown, the league’s preseason player of the year was shouting at the suddenly silent opposing fans and his elated teammates. And probably a little at himself.
Shamorie Ponds wanted everyone to know.
He and his teammates were ready to play Wednesday.
St. John’s buried five straight 3-pointers on its final five possessions of the first half — Ponds hit three pull-up, off-the-dribble daggers during that stretch. He held out three fingers as he nodded and hollered after nailing the last one just before the halftime buzzer.
The Bluejays were down 10 at the break and never recovered. Ponds, motivated to snap a two-game losing streak, made sure of that.
The 6-foot-1 junior finished with a superstar stat line — 26 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and six steals — to lead the Red Storm (16-5, 4-5) to an 83-67 victory at the CHI Health Center.
“I was just trying to leave my imprint on the game,” Ponds said. “No matter what it is, whether it’s defending or scoring or getting my teammates involved. I just tried to do it all.”
The Jays (12-9, 3-5) couldn’t offer enough resistance.
They switched defenders. They used two zone looks. They used a light full-court press once. They double-teamed Ponds, hoping to trap him and force a mistake. CU did force him into six turnovers.
But Ponds never stopped attacking.
When Creighton cut its deficit to 48-40 with 17:18 left — the closest it would get — Ponds was there. On the ensuing possession, he missed at the rim but followed up his shot and earned a trip to the line. Then he stole a pass and glided in for a runout layup.
A couple of minutes later, sophomore Mitch Ballock’s 3-pointer made it 68-57, igniting a crowd of 16,832 and hinting at the possibility of a Creighton rally.
But Ponds had the answer again. On the next three possessions, he found a teammate for a 3-pointer, converted a layup and set up another 3.
“When he gets it going, he’s almost unstoppable,” said junior Martin Krampelj, who scored 14 points.
Normally, Creighton could call on its high-octane offense to stay close. But not Wednesday.
The Jays shot a season-low 41.7 percent from the floor. A couple of weeks ago in the first meeting against St. John’s, they made 43.3 percent of their shots — that matched their previous low on the year.
Credit the Red Storm’s length and aggressiveness on the perimeter. They were engaged, too. Players called out plays as they unfolded. They helped when needed. No drive was easy. Passing lanes were clogged.
“We’ve done it in stretches, but our ability to maintain it the whole game was as good as it’s been all year,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said.
Creighton, on the other hand, was not at its best.
And that caught coach Greg McDermott by surprise. He said his players showed focus and energy in practice these past two days. They were riding a two-game winning streak where they’d played with urgency and grit.
But they didn’t have that edge Wednesday. Ponds did, though. His teammates followed suit.
“If you’re a little bit off, there isn’t a team in this league that can’t beat you,” McDermott said. “I said that at the beginning and that proved to be true (Wednesday). They were really good, and we weren’t. Certainly a big part of the reason why we weren’t very good was how good they were.”