On Sunday afternoon, the ascending program blocked 10 shots on their way to creating all kinds of offensive hell for the Gaels, who shot 34.9 percent for the game.
“I think when you’re getting the shots blocked, it’s more about the impact it has on their offense,” said Iona head coach Tim Cluess regarding St. John’s length on defense. “It’s starting their fast breaks and transition, so they’ve got numerous run outs because of that. It’s those turnovers or blocked shots that really have the impact on the game that gave them their runs.”
On multiple occasions, St. John’s, who went 0-for-12 from three in the game, had their opportunities to blow Iona out of The Garden, but the Gaels displayed true resiliency time and again throughout the night.
In the first, the Red Storm got off to a 21-13 lead with 6:08 left in the first half and had restricted Iona to shooting 23 percent from the field with no change in sight. The Gaels put together a 12-4 run over the remaining six minutes, sending the encounter into halftime tied at 25.
Coming out of the break, the Red Storm went on a 21-4 run in less than six minutes, getting a 46-29 lead with 14:07 left. At one point, the Red Storm lead extended to 52-32, to which Iona answered with a 19-6 run of their own, cutting the deficit to 58-51 with 4:38 remaining.
That’s as close as they would get.
The Red Storm ultimately held on for the victory, improving to 9-2 with only one more non-conference test remaining.
“We’re not really used to playing guys this strong and athletic,” remarked Iona’s EJ Crawford.
In the victory, St. John’s forced 16 Iona turnovers and only coughed up the ball nine times in comparison.
Offensively, the Red Storm, who were again without starting guard Marcus Lovett to a knee injury, were led by Shamorie Ponds, who struggled with his shot, but netted 16 points off the strength of making all eight of his free throw attempts.
Despite shooting 4-of-13 and 0-of-5 from three, Ponds scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and was a driving force in the team’s victory, helping the Johnnies pull away late.
Ponds was also one of five Red Storm starters to score 12 or more points. Tariq Owens, Marvin Clark and Bashir Ahmed each finished with 12 points, while Justin Simon added 15 points and seven boards.
“You could just feel the energy from the crowd,” Simon said after the game. “The excitement they get when they hear about this team. It was a great environment that we had tonight, we’ll have the whole thing packed out next time.”
Owens also tied a career-high with six blocks, and he made all six of his free throw attempts. Ahmed set a new career-best tally on the boards, coming away with 11 rebounds.
“Tariq was incredible blocking shots,” said Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin after the win. “We wanted to get those guys off the three, our defense has been good.”
Ponds and Simon also wreaked havoc on the defensive perimeter, finishing with four steals each, tying for the contest-best mark, combining for eight of the team’s nine steals.
Iona was guided by Deyshonee Much, who had 15 points, 12 of which came from beyond the arc, drilling 4-of-9 from downtown. Crawford followed with 12 and two steals.
Next, the Red Storm will wrap non-conference play on Wednesday, December 20, at 4:30 p.m. against the Saint Joseph’s Hawks at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. On Thursday, December 28, the Red Storm will return for their first taste of Big East action, hosting the Providence Friars at Carnesecca Arena at 7 p.m.