NEW YORK -- After two straight quality wins, St. John's is headed in the right direction after suffering through a dismal last season.
The Red Storm knocked off No. 13 Butler 76-73 behind 26 points from Shamorie Ponds in the Big East Conference opener for both teams before 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena on the St. John's campus on Thursday.
The win was the first over an opponent ranked this high at Carnesecca Arena since St. John's bumped off No. 13 Syracuse, 85-69, on Feb. 23, 1983.
The signature win against Butler followed the Red Storm's rousing 93-60 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Dec. 21. It was the worst loss the Orangemen have ever suffered at the Carrier Dome.
St. John's, once a dominant force in the Big East, had fallen on hard times. Last season, the Red Storm turned to their all-time leading scorer and NBA Hall of Famer, Chris Mullin, to take over the reins. He guided the Johnnie's to an 8-24 mark, including 16 straight losses and a last place finish in the Big East.
With some fresh faces, led by Ponds, the National and Big East Freshman of the Week, the outlook for St. John's looks b right. The Red Storm nine-man rotation features three freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors.
Ponds, from nearby Brooklyn, scored 19 points in the second half, including two clutch free throws for St. John's (7-7, 1-0). His backcourt mate, Bashir Ahmed from the Bronx, added 19 points for the Red Storm, who ended a four-game losing streak to Butler (11-2, 0-1).
"I feel like a lot of people sleep on us," said Ahmed. "It's time to wake us up. I've been watching St. John's a long time. We definitely have been waiting for this. I was psyched being out there."
Tyler Wideman led Butler with 20 points and Kelan Martin scored 13 points.
"We all knew the situation we were coming into to," said Mullin. "Expecting anything else would be unrealistic. Last year we had a good bunch of guys who knew the deal and knew how long it would take.
"Part of the process is being to handle the ups and downs. In the NBA it's strictly win or lose. Here, it's the process. We need to experience games like this more. It's important. It gives them the confidence to trust in each other."
Ponds hit two free throws with nine seconds to play to provide St. John's with a 74-71 cushion after some scrappy work gave the ball back to the Red Storm. He was 6-of-6 from the line and added seven rebounds and two steals to his resume in his Big East debut.
Malik Ellison sank one free throw to give St. John's a 72-71 lead with 14.1 seconds to play and Tariq Owens grabbed the missed shot for the Red Storm.
A jumper from Marcus LoVett tied it at 71-71 for St. John's after a follow by Wideman with 1:01 gave Butler a 71-69 lead.
A breakaway dunk by Ellison and a 3-pointer by Ponds from the right corner tied the game at 69-69 with 1:30 left to play. The baskets ended a scoring drought of 3:09 by the Red Storm.
A short jumper from Andrew Chrabascz moved Butler's lead to 67-62 with 4:17 remaining and a leaner from Martin pushed the lead to 69-69 at the 2:56 mark.
The Red Storm went 3:29 without a bucket before Marcus LoVett nailed a jumper to pull St. John's to 65-62 with 5:32 to play.
The Bulldogs scored eight consecutive points in only 1:26 to pull ahead 58-49 with 12:13 to play.
Two free throws from LoVett tied the score at 31-31 with 30 seconds left before halftime. There were seven lead changes in the half.
The Bulldogs went 2:25 without a basket and St. John's went on a 7-0 run to reclaim a 22-21 advantage at the 7:50 mark. However, Butler responded with a 6-0 burst to move ahead 27-22.
Butler ran off seven straight points over 1:06 to grab a 17-11 lead with 11:23 left in the first half.
"I thought they (St. John's) made more plays, certainly down the stretch than we did," admitted Butler coach Chris Holtmann. "I'm obviously disappointed. We obviously need to get better.
"I thought our defensive approach mirrored our approach in general. We had an immature approach to the game. We didn't provide nearly as much resistance. We weren't nearly tough enough in our approach.
"We are a long ways away from being a good team."
NOTES: This is the eighth matchup between the programs. The first meeting came in the 1958 NIT and the last six have been since Butler joined the Big East before the 2013-14 season. ... Butler is shooting 49.5 percent from the field this season, which ranks 22nd nationally. ... St. John's leads the Big East and ranks ninth in the nation is 3-pointers made. ... St. John's F Kassoum Yakwe is second in the Big East and 15th in the nation in blocked shots. ... No. 11 Butler is one of four Big East teams ranked in the Top 25. Villanova is No. 1, Creighton is No. 10 and Xavier is No. 17. St. John's G Federico Mussini missed his second straight game with an infection.