Marvin Clark II’s versatility has given unbeaten St. John’s a lift

Marvin Clark II didn’t understand the concern.

Sure, losing Sedee Keita for most of the non-conference season because of a knee injury was disappointing. But Clark didn’t see how it was any different from last year, when he, a 6-foot-7 forward, started out of position at center in the season’s first seven games before an injury moved Tariq Owens into the starting lineup.

“I’ve been playing undersized my whole life,” Clark said Friday as St. John’s prepared to host Sacred Heart on Saturday night at Carnesecca Arena in their final tune-up before the Big East season begins Dec. 29 at Seton Hall. “When something like that happens — I’m the biggest guy, the most experienced guy — there’s a job to do, and I want to win. I’m willing to do whatever coach wants me to do.”

Though last year was different, Clark’s versatility has helped him this season. After a shaky start, Clark is averaging 15 points and 6.2 rebounds over his past four games. His perimeter shot is falling — he has hit 10-of-18 3-point attempts in that stretch — and he’s using his quickness more against bigger opponents, beating them off the dribble or down the court.

Clark’s most recent game was his best one, a 12-point, seven-rebound, four-assist four-block showing Wednesday against St. Francis Brooklyn. The rejections, equaling a career-high, were what really stood out.

“I’m getting comfortable down there, making my reads better,” Clark said. “We’re playing a lot better team defense. That gets me in position as the low man to be in position to challenge shots.”

Soon, Clark may not have the burden of all his minutes coming at the five. Keita, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right-knee, is inching closer to a return. The hope is he can return to practice next week and possibly be back either for the Big East opener or the following contest against Marquette on New Year’s Day. The 6-foot-9 South Carolina transfer will be needed against the bigger league foes.

“It’s going to be big for us, it adds a different dimension,” Clark said. “He’s going to take us to another level, especially with shot blocking.”

St. John’s will host junior college forward Valdir Manuel for Saturday’s game. … Junior Shamorie Ponds was named Friday as one of 20 finalists to the Oscar Robertson Trophy watch list as the country’s most outstanding player. The United States Basketball Writers Association votes on the award.

Games of the week

Columbia at Rutgers (Saturday, 1 p.m.)
Expect to see an angry and intense Rutgers at the RAC. Coming off four straight losses, the Scarlet Knights will be desperate. Columbia, after losing seven of its first eight games, has played better of late, beating Bryant and Iona before playing Boston College tough on the road.

Seton Hall at Maryland (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.)
Seton Hall can close out its daunting non-conference schedule with a flourish and position itself nicely for a surprising NCAA Tournament bid. It will have to limit Maryland star sophomore forward Bruno Fernando, who is averaging nearly a double-double at 13.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, for that to happen.

Manhattan at St. Francis Brooklyn (Sunday, 2 p.m.)
St. Francis is coming off a 34-point destruction at the hands of St. John’s, but Manhattan is in even more dire straits. The flatlining Jaspers have dropped six straight, the last three by double digits.

Local Power Poll

1. St. John’s
Record: 11-0
Up next: Saturday (8 p.m.) vs. Sacred Heart

2. Seton Hall
Record: 8-3
Up next: Saturday (5:30 p.m.) at Maryland

3. Rutgers
Record: 5-5
Up next: Saturday (1 p.m.) vs. Columbia

4. Hofstra
Record: 9-3
Up next: Saturday (1 p.m.) vs. Rosemont

5. Stony Brook
Record: 10-3
Up next: Saturday (2 p.m.) at Quinnipiac

Record: 11-2
Up next: Dec. 29 (4 p.m.) at Houston

7. Fordham
Record: 9-3
Up next: Dec. 30 (7 p.m.) vs. LIU Brooklyn

8. St. Francis Brooklyn
Record: 7-5
Up next: Sunday (2 p.m.) vs. Manhattan

9. LIU Brooklyn
Record: 5-6
Up next: Dec. 30 (7 p.m.) at Fordham

10. Wagner
Record: 4-5
Up next: Saturday (2 p.m.) vs. Hartford

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