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Shamorie Ponds surge helps St. John’s avoid embarrassment

Ponds was looking more like a puddle, then came the deluge.

St. John’s junior point guard Shamorie Ponds returned from a curiously long spell on the bench in the second half to lead a comeback for a 84-80 victory over Bowling Green at Carnesecca Arena on Friday night. St. John’s improved to 2-0 in the opening week of the season.

Ponds contributed 16 second-half points after returning from a nearly eight-minute absence — from the 18:15 mark until 10:21 — to rescue the Johnnies from what would have been an ominous loss to an opponent from the lower tier of the Mid-American Conference. Ponds finished with 21 points.

Mustapha Heron, the Auburn transfer guard, scored a team-high 26 points with six rebounds. LJ Figueroa was a spark plug off the bench with 11 points and a host of hustle plays during the game-turning sequence.

Ponds can put the last 10 minutes on his NBA draft reel this coming spring. He all but iced the game with a picturesque turnaround floater and an off-balance 3-pointer that made it 78-69 with roughly 2:30 remaining.

St. John’s had finally regained the lead on a Ponds 3-pointer followed by Figueroa’s loose-ball retrieval into a fast-break and-one, making it 60-58 with less than nine minutes remaining. Then, after Bowling Green tied the game at 60, Ponds scored five straight points.

St. John’s went down 51-40 less than four minutes into the second half in a subdued rainy-night campus gym, but the crowd came alive during the 9-0 run that ensued: two Justin Simon baskets in the paint, a transition 3-pointer from Figueroa and a baseline dunk by Marvin Clark II.

St. John’s trailed 39-37 at halftime after allowing Bowling Green to shoot 51.7 percent from the field and 7-of-13 from 3-point range.

The Johnnies built a rapid 16-7 lead by canning four of their first six tries from beyond the arc, two of them by the senior forward Clark (13 first-half points).

They still led 26-17 after a Ponds bucket, but the momentum shifted when the ball got sticky in the St. John’s offense and Bowling Green went on a 8-0 run. St. John’s hit just two of its final 11 3-point attempts in the half. At one point, head coach Chris Mullin implored Ponds to go by his defender, rather than settling for a one-legged jumper.

Bowling Green took its first lead since 5-2 at 35-33 on a 3-ball from skinny point guard Dylan Frye, who had 13 points in the first half.

Next up for St. John’s is a short trip to face Rutgers on Nov. 16.