Shamorie Ponds health question could determine St. John’s fate

Shamorie Ponds health question could determine St. John’s fate

St. John’s has seen the best of Shamorie Ponds. The Red Storm know what the dynamic sophomore southpaw guard from Brooklyn, an All-Big East first-team selection, is capable of. They know that when hot, he can carry them on his shoulders.

They have seen him score 37 points on No. 2 Villanova, 33 on No. 5 Duke, 31 on No. 3 Xavier, set an on-campus scoring record with a 44-point tour-de-force in a win over Marquette, and lead the Big East in scoring and steals.

“We’re a deeper team, much deeper team, [when he’s out there]. He’s an amazing player,” sophomore guard Justin Simon said. “He’s done great things for us this year. He’s been amazing. We’ll be that much better with him out there.”

“It just opens up the floor for us, because a lot of people focus on Shamorie,” senior wing Bashir Ahmed added.

But this is different. This is Ponds coming off an injury, an abdominal strain that has cost him the past two games. Early in the season, when battling wrist and knee issues, Ponds struggled.

To go on a run this week in the Big East Tournament, St. John’s needs Ponds to play the way he did in mid-February, when he won consecutive Big East Player of the Week awards and led the Johnnies on a four-game winning streak, beating Duke and Villanova in back-to-back games.

Unfortunately, it will be a mystery what St. John’s can expect from the 6-foot-1 guard Wednesday night, when the ninth-seeded Red Storm (15-16) meet eighth-seeded Georgetown (15-14) in the opening round of the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. It will have been 11 days since Ponds last played in a game, Feb. 24 against Seton Hall.

All signs point to Ponds being on the floor at the opening tipoff. The question, of course, is: Which Ponds will St. John’s be getting? A limited version? A rusty player? Coach Chris Mullin doesn’t know.

“That’s the great thing about showing up at the gym: See what unfolds,” Mullin said. “I think it’s kind of awesome, actually. The unknown is beautiful. That’s why you go out and play.”

Ponds suffered the injury at some point during that Feb. 24 loss to Seton Hall, though nobody is sure exactly when or how. He sat out a win over Butler and loss at Providence, and just returned to practice on Monday. Mullin said Ponds looked “pretty good,” and his status will depend on how he came through practice Tuesday, and how his body responds.

“Having one of your best players in the lineup is always important,” Mullin said. “The one positive is when we played minus a few guys, some of [the other] guys have stepped up.”

Indeed, Simon produced a 24-point, 10-rebound, five-assist, four-steal masterpiece in the double-overtime upset of Butler, and Marvin Clark II and Tariq Owens were both essential in the narrow loss to Providence.

It is worth noting that, in the two games prior to his injury, Ponds had begun to cool off. He hit just 14 of 40 shots from the field in losses to Marquette and Seton Hall, and averaged 22 points in the two setbacks. But the Red Storm clearly need the player who led them to the stunners of Duke and Villanova, who set the scoring record against Marquette, who gives them a puncher’s chance to make a move in this tournament.

“I love our chances with him out there,” Simon said.

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