Mullin Remaining Optimistic as Red Storm Struggle

John Cavanagh, Staff Writer

The stakes were high on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s was set to square off against long-time rival Georgetown in what was essentially a must-win game for the Red Storm, coming into the game with a 3-4 record in conference play.

It was a far cry from when they entered conference play at 12-0, or knocked off 12th ranked Marquette on New Year’s Day. Now, the Johnnies have lost three of their last four games, including a loss to DePaul on their home floor. Outside of that game, St. John’s had typically defended their home court well. On Sunday, they had to do so against a Hoyas team that was a 6.5 point underdog.

In years past, this was a game St. John’s was expected to lose. This year was filled with more talent and promise, with glimpses of hope that this year would indeed be different. While they started off conference play slow, a home game against a historic rival was an opportunity to steer this season back in the right direction. The last three years were a culmination to the highly anticipated year four of the Mullin era. However, this game looked like more of the same from St. John’s: A disappointing end that came down to one or two possessions, and the inability to close games out. The Hoyas defeated the Red Storm 89-78, even though the game was much closer than the score would indicate.

The Georgetown lead was just two with 1:25 left on the clock. LJ Figueroa made a huge steal and seemingly had a clear path to the basket that could’ve given the Red Storm the lead. Instead, he pulled up for a three, which bounced off the basket. Sedee Keita had an opportunity for the put-back, but missed, as did Justin Simon right after. And so described the Red Storm’s season in a nutshell. The Johnnies had rallied back from as much as 10 in just a few minutes, only to come up short.  

Potential was always a word used to describe St. John’s. Lead by NBA-bound Shamorie Ponds, the team is athletic, experienced and most importantly, talented. The problem was always finding that level of consistency. The same team that blew Marquette off the floor, and went toe-to-toe with the defending Villanova Wildcats on the road, failed to beat DePaul and Georgetown at home. For a team that has NCAA Tournament aspirations, that simply won’t cut it come selection Sunday.

After the Georgetown game, Mullin cited how the team was 15-5 and credited the Hoyas for a well-played game. Simply put, the only thing that matters is their 3-5 record in the Big East. It’s well documented that the Johnnies’ non-conference schedule wasn’t very challenging, so their 15 total wins won’t turn any heads.

What caught everyone’s attention was the postgame comments from  Ponds and Mustapha Heron at the press conference following the loss to Georgetown. Ponds said he feels like the team has “parted ways.”

“We’re not together like we were in the beginning,” Ponds continued.

The team’s lack of energy and ball movement was the focus in their loss to Butler, and it was prevalent once again against Georgetown. “In the first half, we were going through the motions, so we put ourselves in that position,” Heron said. For the Red Storm to show a lack of urgency in a game they had to win, as also stated by Heron, it has to be concerning.

If St. John’s wants to get back on track, they’ll simply have to make more shots. They took 76 shots (12 more than the Hoyas), yet only made 29 of them. Shooting 38.2 percent  from the field and 26.9 percent from three is a recipe for disaster. The only problem is, the road ahead doesn’t get any easier. A brutal three-game road trip awaits, with Creighton, Duke and Marquette up next on the schedule. It’s certainly a chance for the Red Storm to make a statement. Right now, they could really use one.

Mullin said after the Georgetown game that every day is an opportunity. This is the definition of a “make or break” road trip.