For the first time in the 2017-18 season, St. John’s will play a Madison Square Garden home game, taking on Iona Sunday afternoon.
It’s been over a week since fans got to see this St. John’s team (8-2) take the floor and much longer since they’ve seen them play at Madison Square Garden. That will change Sunday afternoon when the Red Storm take part in the MSG Holiday Festival against the Iona Gaels (5-4) out of the MAAC (4:30 p.m ET, FS1).
Iona has played in the postseason each of the last four years, including two straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Right now, Tim Cluess’ squad is the only team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a winning record and they did give Syracuse a close game at the Carrier Dome back on Nov.14, ultimately falling to the Orange by a score of 71-62.
When you take a look at this Gaels team, the first word that should come to mind is balance. While they don’t have a player that averages more than 14 points per game, they actually have five players that average in double figures, led by junior guard Rickey McGill (13.9 PPG).
Due to their balanced scoring, they share the ball as evident by their 17.2 assists per game, which is the 33rd highest average in all of college basketball. Both McGill (50) and senior guard Zach Lewis (31) are among the MAAC top 10 in assists.
As for the St. John’s backcourt, all eyes will be on whether or not Marcus LoVett will suit up for the Red Storm. LoVett hasn’t played in the last three games due to a left knee injury and his status for this game is still up in the air.
Marcus LoVett (sprained knee) listed as game time decision by St Johns. My guess is he’s out again #sjubb https://t.co/Fw5da2eYLK
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) December 16, 2017
Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon are obvious players to watch for the Red Storm, but the key player to keep an eye on is Bashir Ahmed. In his last two games, he is 4-for-20 from the floor and he has been in early foul trouble. With his ability to rebound (18 in the last two games), they need him to stay on the floor for 30-plus minutes.
While St. John’s can struggle at times with rebounding, they shouldn’t have much of a problem in this game. Iona is only averaging about 32 boards per game which is in the lower 300’s in the nation. Senior forward TK Edogi is their leading rebounder (7.7), but he has just six rebounds in the last two contests against Yale and NJIT respectively.
An X-Factor in this game om the Gaels side is sophomore forward E.J. Crawford. He has scored 19 or more points in three of his last four games and he is efficient from the floor (50 percent shooting). It will be fun to watch him go up against Marvin Clark II, who had his breakout game last Friday when he scored 18 points in the loss to Arizona State.
With Iona having scored 80 or more points in four of the last five games, it will be up to the St. John’s defense to try to get deflections and steals, which they normally do. Ponds is second on the team in steals (24) and he has three or more steals in four consecutive games.
This will be an interesting game to watch because if this game turns into a high-scoring affair, Iona might favor that compare to a half-court contest. In this battle between two local schools, the Gaels will look to try to make a statement at MSG. That means St. John’s needs to get ahead early and not look back.