St. John’s struggles versus D-II St. Thomas Aquinas

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Christian Jones was one of the few bright spots for St. John’s as the redshirt junior scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had four steals in the exhibtion loss to Division II Thomas Aquinas. (Photo: St. John’s Athletic Communications)

Carmine Carcieri, Assistant Sports Editor

Chris Mullin’s first game in his highly anticipated return to Queens did not go according to plan.

The new, inexperienced St. John’s roster was dominated from start to finish by Division II St. Thomas Aquinas, 90-58, in the team’s opening preseason match-up at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night.

“It’s embarrassing,” Mullin said following the loss. “But, it’s something we have to claim. We did it together and there’s no time for pointing fingers.”

The lone bright spot for the Red Storm was redshirt junior forward Christian Jones who recorded 13 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Jones was active on the glass and showed his experience playing at the collegiate level as he contributed 19 minutes off the bench without missing a shot.

Freshman point guard Federico Mussini led the team in scoring with 16 points and four threes but struggled to separate from the Spartans pressure defense. Shooting guard Malik Ellison (10 points) and stretch four Darien Williams (eight points) also chipped in on the offensive end of the floor while graduate transfer Durand Johnson failed to continue his hot shooting from the Red and White Scrimmage, scoring only a single point.

Missouri State graduate transfer Ron Mvouika and freshman big man Yankuba Sima both had rough outings, combining for just seven points and seven rebounds.

The Johnnies were missing freshman Marcus LoVett (knee) and Kassoum Yakwe (eligibility issue) along with senior Felix Balamou (undisclosed injury).

With seven new players receiving minutes and three coming off major injuries, the lack of chemistry at both ends of the floor was evident. The Johnnies committed 28 turnovers (16 at halftime) and failed with their defensive rotations, letting the Spartans score 48 total points in the paint.

“The biggest thing is the basic fundamentals,” Mullin said when asked about what he could take away from the game. “Passing, getting open, taking care of the basketball, breaking the press. It wasn’t effective enough and that’s what these exhibition games are for.”

St. John’s dug themselves into a 16-point hole at halftime as the Spartans shot 63 percent from downtown, 62 percent from the field overall and converted 21 points off turnovers. With the ability to beat Mullin’s guards off the dribble, the Pennsylvania squad finished at the rim with ease. It was not a better performance in the second frame for the Red Storm. St. Thomas Aquinas continued to play with a chip on their shoulder with Chaz Watler (18 points), Justin Reyes (25 points) and Shaquille McFarlan (13 points) leading the team on a 10-0 run early in the second half.

The Johnnies finished the game shooting 37 percent from the floor and 59 percent from the free throw strike.

“I take the responsibility,” Mullin said. “I thought they were more prepared than they were. But, we’ll get back to the details and we’ll have tremendous things to work on from the tape.”

St. John’s opens the season on campus versus Wagner on Friday, Nov. 13.