Off to its best start since 2014-15 when it won 11 of its first 12 games, St. John’s overcame a sluggish first half to roll over Sacred Heart 90-55 on Saturday. The Johnnies now head west for a Tuesday matchup in the Valley of the Sun Shootout in Phoenix with a 5-1 Grand Canyon team that comes off a 68-56 win over UC Riverside.
St. John’s had almost a week off before Saturday’s triumph over Sacred Heart, and it showed as the Johnnies struggled to get on track, only holding a two-point advantage at the break. But the second half was a different story as the Red Storm offense caught fire with 69 percent shooting from the field, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, while the defense took over, forcing a season-high 25 turnovers and limiting the Pioneers to only eight second-half field goals, with an 0-for-10 showing from downtown. “At the beginning of the game, we just came out a little flat,” St. John’s guard Justin Simon said after the game, “but in the second half, everyone pitched in and talked. It all starts with defense.” Grand Canyon could challenge that defense if it can recapture its 3-point shooting touch as Dan Majerle’s usually prolific Antelopes dropped from first to fifth in the Western Athletic Conference in 3-point percentage (30.8) after hitting just eight of 59 treys (13.6 percent) in the past two games.
TV: 11:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT ST. JOHN’S (7-1): Despite the slow start against Sacred Heart, the Johnnies had five players finish in double figures for the first time since Dec. 20, 2015, led by sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds, who hit 9 of 19 shots for a game-high 22 points, the fifth time he scored at least 20 this season and the third time in his last four games. Forward Tariq Owens came off his big game against Central Florida to post his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds along with four blocks, while Simon and Marvin Clark II each chipped in with 14 points and Bashir Ahmed went 5-for-7 from the field to add 13 points. The Red Storm are one of the nation’s best at producing turnovers (20.3 per game) and they scored 34 points off 25 turnovers against Sacred Heart.
ABOUT GRAND CANYON (5-1): Three Lopes are averaging in double figures, led by guard Joshua Braun (15.5), who also tops the school with 15 3-pointers and a 40.5 shooting percentage from beyond the arc despite going 0-for-7 against Riverside. Fellow guard Casey Braun also missed all seven of his 3-point tries last time out but he finished with 12 points, seven assists and four steals. Grand Canyon closed out the weekend ranked fifth in Division I in scoring defense (58.5) - St. John’s is tied for 11th (60 per game) - and 13th in 3-point percentage defense (26.4).
1. St. John’s has faced only one other member of the current Western Athletic Conference - Seattle University in the Kentucky Invitational on Dec. 16, 1977.
2. This is considered a neutral site game at Talking Stick Resort Arena, but the Lopes will drive just eight miles from their campus while the Red Storm travel 2,500.
3. St. John’s has posted eight or more blocks three times this season, including the last two games.
PREDICTION: St. John’s 91, Grand Canyon 58