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Despite Slow Start, St. John’s Pulls Out Close Win Over Rutgers

(Credit: Steven Ryan - Newsday) St. John's guard Federico Mussini (4) is defended by Rutgers guard Corey Sanders (3)

(Credit: Steven Ryan – Newsday)
St. John’s guard Federico Mussini (4) is defended by Rutgers guard Corey Sanders (3)


St. Johns took on the Rutgers Thursday night in Carnesecca Arena for the Gavitt Tip Off game.

This game turned out to be a great one, coming down to the wire. At times, it looked like this game was over early in the second half, as the Johnnies were down by as much as 15 points. However, they didn’t give up, kept inching to get back in it, and were able to win a game they had no business winning. They left it all on the floor and it just goes to show what type of team Mullin and his staff recruited.

Asked about his team’s performance after the game, Mullin said, “It was a total team effort. [Rutgers] is a big, physical, strong, athletic team. We told our team we had to rebound, which we did. Our turnovers were at 15, which is the right direction for us. Our defense is ahead of our offense. I thought we hung in there, stayed positive and gave ourselves a shot.”

They’re a gritty bunch and are off to a great start thus far.

The Johnnies got off to a slow start, as it took them a while to find their offensive rhythm. Down 17-9, with 9:06 left in the first half, Mullin called a timeout to regroup. The Johnnies had a stretch where they did not score for six consecutive minutes in the first half. Back to back threes by Mussini and Ron Mvouika with five minutes left in the first half got the dices rolling and brought them back in the game. Mussini added another three, minutes later as the Johnnies scored nine straight points to bring the deficit to six, at 24-18. The first half ended with Rutgers up 33-26.

Rutgers opened the second half with a three and a pair of jump shots to quickly go ahead 40-26. Mike Williams of Rutgers would add another three minutes later to put Rutgers up by 16, which was the largest lead of the game. However, St. John’s was able to collect themselves and slowly narrow the deficit.

An Mvouika three pointer and Christian Jones layup cut the lead to six, 50-44 with 8:50 left. The next few mins of play, both teams would trade baskets and the game remained close. With 2:53 left, the Johnnies found themselves down by five, until Mussini hit a huge three, to make the score 58-56. He would then add two clutch free throws, tying the game with 2:34 left.

With 1:19 to go, Mvouika hit two clutch free throws to put St. John’s up by one, 60-59, which was their first lead of the game. St. John’s would hold the lead, and a key steal by Jones led to a foul with 6.5 left. He would nail the second free throw, increasing the lead to two.

Rutgers had to advance the ball all the way from the other side of the court and was not able to beat the clock for a chance to tie or win the game. The Johnnies would go on to win 61-59.

Eddie Jordan, when asked about the last play of the game said, “The defense sort of corralled him to the sideline and he didn’t have a clear vision or a clear lane, and I have to give the defense credit for that. He’s trying to find a lane in just about six seconds or less, so it was enough time that if he had a clear lane and a straight line he could have made a play. But give St. John’s credit, they loaded up on him on the strong side and he found Bishop, but too late.”

Mussini, who has been huge for St. John’s this season finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Sima added 13 points and nine rebounds, while Mvouika contributed 12 points and 10 boards. Felix Balamou, who was just reinstated by the NCAA yesterday, also added eight points and 11 rebounds.

Mullin praised Felix’s hard play by saying, “[Felix] had seven assists and one turnover. That is huge at any level. He chipped in with eight points and played tremendous defense. He’s our best perimeter defender. Credit to Felix for practicing really hard, staying ready and focused, and being able to transfer all of that work from practice to the game.”

For Rutgers, Bishop Daniels had a game high 21 points, however costly turnovers towards the end of the game did not help. Mike Williams also had a good game with 13 points.

Overall, it was a great win for the Johnnies, considering they only shot 32.3% from the field. They definitely stole this game from Rutgers, and are 3-0 to start the season. This game was a true testimony to rest of the league that they are for real, after beating a good Rutgers team led by Eddie Jordan.

The Johnnies will be back in action in Hawaii Monday for the Maui Invitational vs. Vanderbilt.

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