St. John’s loses conference opener to Creighton

Carmine Carcieri, Assistant Sports Editor

The St. John’s men’s basketball team was looking for a fresh start in their first Big East game against the Creighton Blue Jays at Carnesecca Arena on New Year’s Eve, but instead the Johnnies lost their fourth straight game, 80-70, in front of a near sell out crowd.

“(We did) some good things,” Chris Mullin said following the game. “We took care of the ball pretty well. We rebounded with them. Overall I thought it was just okay. Not good enough to win. Our overall pace and energy has to increase. We just got worn down.”

Malik Ellison, who continues to work himself back following a foot injury, was one of the lone bright spots as he finished with 17 points and six rebounds while committing just a single turnover. Yankuba Sima scored 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting and Durand Johnson was solid off the bench with 14 points, but Federico Mussini, five points on 1-of-8 shooting, struggled mightily to command the offense.

In the opening half, the Johnnies limited the high-scoring Blue Jays to just three three’s, out-rebounded senior big man Geoffrey Groselle and company and got to the free throw line with ease. They went into the break trailing by six but the Red Storm ran out of fuel on the defensive end in the second frame.

The visitors came out of the break shooting lights out, as they hit four of their first five threes and jumped out to a double-digit lead before the under 12 media timeout. Groselle, who finished with 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting, was able to control the game from there, showing off his experience with an array of up-and-under moves that limited Sima and Kassoum Yakwe from blocking his shots at the rim.

The Johnnies shot similar splits to Creighton, but they once again botched free throws in the second half and had a major problems matching the Blue Jays’ talent.

“Creighton is a good team,” Johnson said. “Give those guys credit. We had all the momentum but we just couldn’t get over the hump. We just have to keep building and moving forward.”

The Johnnies were also affected by losing Felix Balamou (nine points) and Sima for extended stretches due to foul trouble. Balamou created major match-up issues with his explosiveness but he was unable to stay on the floor to break down the Jays’ man-to-man defense.

The Johnnies, who play Providence, Xavier, Marquette and Georgetown in the next two weeks, have a rough slate of games coming up so the three point defense, free throwing shooting and consistency will have to improve.