By Kevin Sweeney
CBS Sports college basketball writer Jon Rothstein frequently tweets: “College Basketball. Where the unexpected becomes the ordinary.”
Tonight’s final score between St. John’s and Syracuse would certainly qualify as unexpected.
The Orange, usually very tough to beat at the Carrier Dome, were absolutely dominated by former Big East rival St. John’s. When the final buzzer mercifully sounded, Syracuse was on the wrong side of a 93-60 score line, one of the worst losses of the Jim Boeheim era.
The talented but inexperienced Johnnies, who were coming off consecutive losses to LIU-Brooklyn & Penn State, had no problems getting good looks against the vaunted Syracuse zone defense, recording a ridiculous 27 assists on 34 made field goals while shooting over 50% from the field.
The early stages of the first half did not seem to have the makings of a blowout, as the Orange took a 14-12 lead with 12:42 to go in the half on a jumper by Taurean Thompson. Then, St. John’s started to heat up, hitting four triples in a span of less than 2 minutes to quickly turn a deficit into a double-digit lead. Freshman big man Richard Freudenberg, who was averaging just 1.3 points per game coming into the contest, scored 8 quick points during what became a 19-2 run that flipped the 14-12 Orange lead to a 31-16 advantage for the Red Storm. Syracuse did recover, pulling back within 10 at halftime to give some life to the Carrier Dome crowd.
Syracuse continued to hang around early in the second half, with a trio of buckets by senior center DaJuan Coleman in the first two minutes of the half cutting their deficit to six. It was midway through the second half that St. John’s made their decisive run to take full control of the ballgame. After the under-12 media timeout, St. John’s went on a 30-6 run that lasted over 8 minutes to take an 89-54 lead with 2:49 to play in the game. It was the guard quartet of Marcus LoVett, Shamorie Ponds, Malik Ellison, and Bashir Ahmed that did the majority of the heavy lifting during the run, orchestrating the offense to break down the zone while playing stifling defense on Syracuse’s veteran guards. Perhaps more importantly, they played with a confidence not typically found in inexperienced players on the road. That young core, made up of 2 freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior, appears to be a group capable of eventually bringing the St. John’s program back to the heights of years past.
Ponds led the way for the Red Storm with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. Ahmed posted 20 points while Ellison added 16 for the Johnnies.
Tyler Lydon had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Orange, while Coleman and Thompson each had 10 points.
Syracuse will have a terrible taste in its mouth going into a 6-day break for Christmas. They return to action Tuesday, December 27 at home versus Cornell. St. John’s will begin Big East play with a huge amount of confidence, and open the slate with Butler on Thursday, December 29.