St. John’s rallies past St. Francis in Garden opener

Chris Mullin coached his first game at Madison Square Garden Sunday, a win for St. John's over St. Francis (Brooklyn) (Photo: Anthony Gruppuso, USA Today Sports)

Chris Mullin coached his first game at Madison Square Garden Sunday, a win for St. John's over St. Francis (Brooklyn) (Photo: Anthony Gruppuso, USA Today Sports)

Stephen Zitolo, Sports Editor

St. John’s has been consistently inconsistent up to this point of the season, and nothing changed on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm escaped with a 63-56 victory over St. Francis-Brooklyn, and nothing was pretty about it.

“Tonight wasn’t a pretty game, but we will learn from it,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said. “It’s nice to win. But there’s a lot of stuff we need to do better.”

The game marked the first time that Mullin has coached at Madison Square Garden since he took the reigns of the program. The contest also was the first time many of the Red Storm players have ever played on the floor at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

“I love this place,” Mullin said. I always have and I always will. I think I enjoyed playing here more than coaching but it was another new experience. A 52- year-old guy having a new experience like that is pretty cool. It was nice seeing Coach Carnesecca behind me, which was pretty surreal.”

The Red Storm (5-3) had a lot of trouble getting things going early as they struggled on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end turnovers killed the Johnnies as the Terriers (3-5) capitalized on the sloppy play early on. With a little over six minutes left the Red Storm were down 23-14 and than a light would go off for the Red Storm.

In the final 6:43 of the first half St. John’s dominated. The Red Storm went on a 19-2 run to end the half and went into the locker room with a 33-25 lead. Graduate student Durand Johnson led the charge with 10 of his game high 19 points during the run.

“I think [Johnson] can develop back into a consistent offensive presence,” Mullin said. ”He’s been up and down this year and frustrated at times, but the layoff is something you can’t underestimate. I thought he was big tonight and we will see more of that as the year goes on.”

In the second half St. John’s couldn’t pull away from St. Francis, as both teams traded basket for basket.

Freshman center Yankuba Sima, with a dislocated pinky, came up big for the Red Storm with nine points and six rebounds in the half.  Sima had his best game to date as he bounced after he struggled versus Fordham on Wednesday night in the Bronx. He scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Sunday.

“It was really painful because my finger was dislocated,” Sima said. “But when they put it back in it was way better. It didn’t affect me at all. I think I played better in the second half.”

“He’s [Sima] a tough kid,” Mullin said. “He had a great bounce back game.”

Ten second half turnovers almost doomed the Red Storm as the Terriers made a late second half run to close the Johnnies lead to 57-55 with 36 seconds remaining. But Johnson sealed the game as he made a jumper from the left wing and sunk two free throws to secure the win.

Redshirt junior forward Christian Jones played a big part in the St. John’s win on Sunday as well. The 6’7” forward pitched in with 13 points and nine rebounds.

 

Sunday’s win marked the 1,800th in program history for St. John’s making them only the ninth program in the nation to reach the historic mark.

The Red Storm will return to action on Dec. 9 versus Niagara at Carnesecca Arena.