Johnnies Falls to 0-3 in Conference Play

Carmine Carcieri, Assistant Sports Editor

With the Big East schedule in full swing, the St. John’s men’s basketball team was looking to avoid an 0-3 start against the 10th ranked Xavier Musketeers at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night. Instead, the Johnnies were defeated, 74-66, in a game that was much closer than the score indicated and was decided by a critical foul call and clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.

The Red Storm trailed by one point with 1:30 remaining when Federico Mussini was called for a technical foul for slamming the ball to the ground following a Durand Johnson reach in. It not only changed the complexion of the game but also zapped all the momentum from the crowd as senior Myles Davis (19 points) and sophomore Trevon Bluiett (18 points) knocked down all four attempted free throws.

“I was upset with myself because I didn’t box out,” Mussini said following the game. “I didn’t think about it when I threw the ball. Without that we would have probably won the game.”

But the Johnnies also shot only 34 percent from the field, hit just seven threes and their best player, Yankuba Sima, played only 11 minutes due to a hand injury.

“Don’t be upset,” Mvouika said to Mussini during the postgame press conference. “That’s not where the game went wrong. It’s part of the game. It happens. He had a heck of a game.”

Indeed, Mussini was one of the reasons the Johnnies had a chance to steal a victory down the stretch. He scored 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting and hit multiple long-range jumpers that torched the Musketeers vaunted 1-3-1 zone. Mvouika, who showed great leadership throughout the contest, also chipped in 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting while also chipping in on the glass with five boards and had a hand in the Johnnies zone-attack.

While Sima didn’t score a single point, Johnson added 12 off the bench and Felix Balamou and Amar Alibegovic finished with a combined 10 points.

The Johnnies were physical in the paint, exposed the Musketeers’ lack of a point guard and distributed the ball successfully (12 assists on 23 field goals). They also kept their turnovers down (13 overall), missed only five free throws and forced Xavier into some poor, sloppy possessions.

“We battled, we competed and we didn’t give up,” Chris Mullin said. “We’re going to break through if we keep competing, keep practicing hard and if keep our mental focus. I’m really proud of my guys.”

The Johnnies showed excellent development and composure, as they came back down double digits in the first half. And while they proved they could` be competitive against one of the top teams in the Big East, the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out.

St. John’s has three ranked teams in the next three weeks and no night in the Big East will be a walk in the park.