After his breakout performance Tuesday night against Butler, Mustapha Heron could be finding his form at the right time for St. John’s.
All season long, St. John’s Red Storm fans have been waiting for Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron to be that difference maker on offense. Well, on Tuesday night, he was just that against Butler scoring a game-high 28 points in the team’s 77-73 overtime win over the Bulldogs.
With that win, the Red Storm have put themselves on the right side of the bubble for a spot in the NCAA Tournament for now. However, to stay on that side, they are going to need Heron to have more games like that because of the experience that he brings.
Heron is one of three players on the roster that have participated in an NCAA Tournament game. The other two players are Marvin Clark II and Sedee Keita, who both played in a Final Four for their respective schools. For a team that is trying to get to March Madness for the first time, that experience can only help as this team tries to handle the expectations.
While Heron has proven to be one of the better three-point shooters on the roster (43 percent), the strength of his game against Butler was to drive the basket and use the mid-range/perimeter success for pump fakes. On Tuesday, he was 10-for-12 from the free throw line and made all six of his foul shots in overtime.
To put that into perspective, the 12 free throw attempts by Heron were tied for a season-high that he had against Bowling Green in the second game of the season (26 points total). While Bowling Green and Butler are a vastly different competition, it is a good correlation that offensive success can come for him when he gets to the rim. Last year, he had five games in which he attempted double-digits foul shots.
It was clear last Saturday how valuable Heron is to St. John’s as his absence was a major part in the team’s 70-56 loss to Providence when he missed the game because of a bruised right knee. With Heron now in the fold, his presence is going to be key as the team looks for another season-defining win on Sunday when they take on the #13 Villanova Wildcats at Madison Square Garden.
Back in January, the Red Storm played a strong 30 minutes against the defending National Champions, but they were unable to close the deal. On that night, Heron only had eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. Since that game, he has scored in double figures in every game (streak of seven contests).
If Heron can become that additional scoring threat along with Shamorie Ponds and St. John’s can find that consistency they have been looking for, they are going to be a dangerous team in March.
At the very least, it is never a bad thing to have an additional scoring option down the stretch in these close, competitive games. If Heron can get into double figures in scoring on Sunday, then he could be one of the reasons why the Red Storm picks up a third signature win in the conference.