Nov. 24, 2016
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas - Trailing by as many as 11 in the second half, the Red Storm fought back valiantly to tie the contest on three occasions down the stretch, but proved unable to regain the lead as VCU held on for a 75-69 victory on Thursday night in The Battle 4 Atlantis.
"Looking at the total game, I think we had a few careless turnovers that cost us," said Head Coach Chris Mullin. "We missed a few easy baskets and they turned them into three-point shots in transition. But I thought we played a good game, just didn't finish it off. We probably played 25 to 30 good minutes last game and probably about 30 tonight. We just have to get to 40 minutes. We're getting there. We're getting better."
Four Johnnies reached double figures against VCU (4-1), led by Shamorie Ponds with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including a 3-of-6 effort from beyond the arc. The freshman from Brooklyn also grabbed four boards and dished out two assists.
Marcus LoVett excelled once again for St. John's (2-3), scoring 10 points to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and two steals, all of which were team-highs.
Bashir Ahmed scored nine of his 13 points in an early run for the Red Storm, while Yankuba Sima added 12 points and tied for a team-high with seven rebounds on the evening.
Federico Mussini hit two key three-pointers to spark the Red Storm's second-half run, finishing with seven points. Kassoum Yakwe proved once again that he is one of the nation's premier defensive presences in the paint, recording a season-high six blocks and grabbing five rebounds. The sophomore from Mali also drew a number of charges on the defensive end.
VCU tallied the game's first point on a free throw less than 30 seconds into the action, but the Red Storm wasted no time responding, sinking their first eight attempts from the floor, three of which were from beyond the arc, to take a 20-7 lead with 13:31 to go in the first half. Ahmed scored nine points for the Red Storm during that stretch, while LoVett and Sima added four apiece.
The Rams answered with a 10-1 run to cut the St. John's lead to just four, 21-17, on a JeQuan Lewis triple near the midway mark of the half. From there, the two teams began to trade buckets over the next several minutes, as neither VCU nor St. John's made consecutive field goals until the 4:02 mark of the period.
VCU cut its deficit to one, 31-30, with four minutes to go in the opening stanza, but the Johnnies would not surrender the lead before halftime, moving back ahead by six following free throws from Sima and a three-ball from Ponds.
The Red Storm led by six, 41-35, following an acrobatic and-one from Ponds with a minute to go before the break, but the Rams scored back-to-back buckets to end the half and trim the lead to just two, 41-39, at the intermission.
Lewis kicked off the second half with back-to-back triples for VCU, moving the Rams ahead by four, 45-41, less than a minute into the action. Ponds proved quick to answer the Rams' threat, sinking two-straight buckets to knot the game at 45.
With the game tied, the Rams opened up an 11-0 run over the next 2:40, moving ahead 56-45 with 13:56 showing on the clock.
With his team facing its largest deficit of the game, Mussini stepped to the occasion and drained back-to-back triples, trimming the VCU lead to just five, 56-51, with 12:12 to play in the second half.
The Red Storm continued to whittle away at the Rams' lead over the next several minutes, eventually tying the contest at 62 on a pair of free throws from Malik Ellison with just under seven minutes remaining. Overall, the Red Storm's run stood at 17-6 over 5:52 of game action.
St. John's tied the game on two more occasions over the closing minutes of the contest, but proved unable to pull ahead, as the Rams answered both offensively and defensively, holding the Red Storm without a field goal for four minutes and 27 seconds before Sima nailed a baseline jumper with seven ticks left on the clock.
The Johnnies will close out their stay in the Bahamas tomorrow night, taking on Old Dominion at 9:30 p.m. The game will be televised live on AXS TV and can be heard on 570 AM WMCA.