Late run not enough as Red Storm fall to Marquette

Freshman forward Kassoum Yakwe (14) blocks a Luke Fischer shot in St. John's BIG EAST Tournament opening-round game against Marquette. (Photo: St. John's Athletic Communications)

Freshman forward Kassoum Yakwe (14) blocks a Luke Fischer shot in St. John's BIG EAST Tournament opening-round game against Marquette. (Photo: St. John's Athletic Communications)

Carmine Carcieri, Assistant Sports Editor

It was do or die time for St. John’s. A win at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday would send them to the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament and a loss would end one of the worst seasons in program history.

While the Johnnies fought for their dear lives, coming back down as many as 16 points in the second half, it wasn’t enough as Chris Mullin’s unit fell to Marquette, 101 to 93, in the first round of the conference tournament.

Christian Jones had the best game of his career as he put up 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. He showed off his developing mid-range jump shot and his tough mentality against Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer down low.

“A lot of it had to do with CJ (Jones),” Mullin said about his team’s solid performance in the paint in the second half. “It was a well-played second half and much like it was all season, I was proud of our guys effort. We didn’t give up.”

His counterparts were solid with Durand Johnson scoring 13 points on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting while Ron Mvouika put up six points, including the go-ahead three that completed the Red Storm comeback. Malik Ellison added 10 on 3-of-4 shooting and Federico Mussini caught fire in the second frame and scored 15 total points.

The Red Storm were able to rally behind one last jolt of energy. They knocked down open shots from beyond the arc, got out in transition, created turnovers on the defensive end of the floor and blocked shots at the basket. Most importantly, they played discipline basketball and moved the ball with ease.

Despite a strong second half, the Red Storm showed off their inexperience as they made mistakes down the stretch. After Mvouika hit the go-ahead three to give them the lead with 3:14 remaining, the Johnnies did not get back on defense quick enough and gave up an open jumper to Ellenson, who put Marquette back up two.

All night long the Red Storm failed to play competent defense. St. John’s couldn’t stop the dribble drive, gave Ellenson open shots and failed to stop the ball without fouling. Marquette had 50 points at halftime and the Golden Eagles shot 43 free throws in 40 minutes of play.

“The free throw line is where we got beat, but I’m proud of their performance,” Mullin said.

St. John’s shot 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown but wasted that offensive performance by letting the Golden Eagles hit 56 percent of their shots and 50 percent of their threes. The number 10 seed also had 17 turnovers to Marquette’s 14 and had nine more personal fouls.

Now the Johnnies will shift their focus to the 2016-17 season where they will have a deep, talented, more experienced group of guys that will be hungry to rack up more wins in the competitive Big East.