The St. John’s Red Storm are set to take on Marquette and Justin Simon will be key for the team to advance in the Big East Tournament.
After their 82-74 win over DePaul on Wednesday night, the St. John’s Red Storm are back in action Thursday when they face Marquette in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals (7:00 p.m ET, FS1). A win would put St. John’s in the semifinals for the first time since 2000 and it would likely lock up a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Storm have to be feeling confident going into this game after defeating the Golden Eagles in both meetings during the regular season. They began 2019 with an 89-69 blowout win at Carnesecca Arena. Then, on Feb. 5, Shamorie Ponds’ layup with 16 seconds left led to a 70-69 win at the Fiserv Forum.
In order to accomplish that third win, it will be up to mainly Justin Simon. Simon was one of three players that scored 18 points for St. John’s on Wednesday night. The last time he had at least 18 points in a game was in that second Marquette matchup. A major contribution from Simon will be key, but it won’t be as pivotal as his defense.
Simon shut down Max Strus as he held DePaul’s leading scorer to 14 points. Up next, the challenge will be Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard. Howard averaged 25 points per game in the regular season. However, he was held to 25 combined points against St. John’s in those two meetings on 7-for-32 shooting (6-for-16 from three-point range) with four turnovers.
If Simon can help shut down Howard once again, or at least contain his point production, it will force someone else on the Golden Eagles to win the game whether it’s Sam or Joey Hauser. Sam Hauser had 25 points against Seton Hall on March 6. However, he has made only 12 of his 39 shot attempts in the last three games.
During Marquette’s recent four-game losing streak, turnovers have been the main reason for those struggles. In those four games, the Golden Eagles have given up the ball up 63 times and they had at least 18 turnovers in three of those four contests.
On paper, it looks like a favorable matchup for St. John’s because they are very aggressive with their on-ball pressure. In conference games, the Red Storm had more steals than any team in the Big East and led the conference in turnover margin.
This stat is impressive when you consider two of the top three players in the Big East in steals are from St. John’s and neither are Simon. Those players are Ponds (2.6 steals per game) and LJ Figueroa (1.8). Of course, St. John’s has to have the right amount of aggressiveness or Marquette could get open looks from the perimeter. Furthermore, early foul trouble can be an issue if St. John’s comes out undisciplined.
Wednesday night, we saw Mustapha Heron have one of his best games in a St. John’s uniform. He had 18 points, drove the ball to the basket, and attacked the glass with a team-high seven rebounds. If his knee is back to being healthy, he can be a difference maker in this matchup once again. He had 16 points and eight rebounds on only seven shot attempts back on Jan. 1.
For St. John’s, another X-Factor in this game has to be Marvin Clark II. He brings leadership on the court for this Red Storm squad, but he had a rough game on Wednesday. He found himself in early foul trouble and shot 2-for-9 from beyond the arc (10 points).
The two matchups against Marquette for Clark II were Jekyll and Hyde, to say the least. On Jan. 1, he had 22 points and seven rebounds while shooting 7-for-10 from the floor. One month later, he only took four shots and did not record a single point.
If St. John’s wants to pull off another upset, they will need Clark II to stay on the floor and hit those perimeter shots from the corner. This offense can take it to another level when he is producing. That was evident on Wednesday when all five starters averaged in double figures.
While there is pressure on St. John’s to win on Thursday, not as much as there was on Wednesday when it felt like a must-win against DePaul. The crowd will be electric for this game when you consider the homecourt advantage St. John’s will have. Moreover, there is a good nightcap matchup at Madison Square Garden with Georgetown and Seton Hall. Can St. John’s take advantage of that crowd and feed off that energy?
On the Marquette side, the X-Factor is forward Joey Hauser. The freshman was second on Marquette in rebounding (5.3 per game) behind his brother. He is a good foul shooter (83.1 percent) and he hit 44.3 percent of his three-point shots. If he can be that reliable third scoring option for the Golden Eagles, then that changes this game.
As far as a prediction goes, expect St. John’s to play with the same energy they did last night on the defensive end. With that being said, it is tough to think that Marquette is going to end the year on a five-game losing streak. Golden Eagles win a close one but expect this game to come down to the wire.