Nov. 19, 2015
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QUEENS, N.Y. - Trailing by 16 with 14:52 remaining in regulation, St. John's mounted a furious comeback to defeat Rutgers, 61-59, in front of a frenzied crowd at Carnesecca Arena as part of the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games. The Red Storm pulled even at the 2:34 mark and closed the game on a 32-14 run overall.
St. John's (3-0) clawed all the way back and tied the score at 58-58 with 2:34 remaining after getting five-straight points from freshman Federico Mussini (Reggio Emilia, Italy). Scarlet Knights guard Corey Sanders made 1-of-2 free throws on an ensuing possession before Ron Mvouika (Paris, France) countered with a pair of free throws to give the Red Storm its first lead since the 13:19 mark of the first half.
The Red Storm sealed the victory with its defense, holding Rutgers scoreless for the final two minutes. Yankuba Sima (Girona, Spain) came up with his sixth block of the game with 56 seconds remaining. Then Christian Jones (Arlington, Texas) made a key steal at midcourt and went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line to put St. John's up 61-59 with 6.5 seconds on the clock. The Scarlet Knights took the ball the length of the court, but couldn't get a shot off before time expired.
"It was a total team effort," said St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin. "[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."
Mvouika had 12 points and 10 rebounds to help lead the Red Storm. The graduate student nailed a clutch 3-pointer at the 10:14 mark to help jumpstart a 9-0 spurt that brought the Red Storm within five. Sima added career-highs with 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Felix Balamou (Conakry, Guinea) provided a lift off the bench in his first action of the season, also posting career-highs with eight points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Mussini led St. John's in scoring for the third-straight game, finishing with 13 points.
"[Felix] had seven assists and one turnover. That is huge at any level," said Mullin. "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."
Bishop Daniels scored a game-high 21 points to lead Rutgers (2-1), while Mike Williams added 13 points. The Scarlet Knights shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) from the floor, but made just 5-of-14 free throws (35.7 percent).
A seven-point halftime deficit quickly reached double-digits as Rutgers opened the second half on a 7-0 run. A Williams 3-pointer later gave the Scarlet Knights a 45-29 lead, the largest of the game, at the 14:52 mark.
After Amar Alibegovic (Rome, Italy) drained a 3, Balamou followed with a tip-in to cut the lead to nine. Rutgers, however, pushed the lead back to 14 with 11:38 left before Durand Johnson (Baltimore, Md.) and Mvouika followed with consecutive 3s to start the game-winning rally.
"We're focusing on each day, each film session, each shoot around, each practice to get better," said Mullin. "We talk about [progression all the time], but more importantly we're doing it."
St. John's carries its three-game win streak to the 32nd annual Maui Jim Maui Invitational. The Red Storm is back in action on Monday, opening play against No. 17/17 Vanderbilt (3-0) at the Lahaina Civic Center. ESPN2 will carry the national telecast at 2:30 p.m. ET. St. John's IMG Radio broadcast will air on 970 AM (WNYM).