Dec. 20, 2015
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QUEENS, N.Y. - Despite having five players score double-figures, St. John's suffered an 83-74 setback to NJIT on Sunday in Queens. The hot-shooting Highlanders sank 11 3-pointers and finished with a 52.1 field goal percentage.
Federico Mussini (Reggio Emilia, Italy) made five 3-pointers and had a team-high 20 points to lead St. John's (7-5), while Christian Jones (Arlington, Texas) added 10 points and 11 rebounds for his second-career double-double. Yankuba Sima (Girona, Spain) scored six points to go with a career-high 14 rebounds as the Red Storm finished +9 (45-36) on the glass.
Ron Mvouika (Paris, France) finished with 12 points, Malik Ellison (Voorhees, N.J.) chipped in with a career-high 11 points and Durand Johnson (Baltimore, Md.) added 10 to round out the five players in double-figures.
Damon Lynn and Chris Jenkins each sank five 3-pointers to anchor the NJIT (7-5) scoring offense. Lynn poured in 32 points and Jenkins finished with 19. The Highlanders shot 11-of-20 (55.0 percent) from long range and made 22-of-29 (75.9 percent) free throws.
"Overall, [our energy] level was pretty good," said St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin. "We took care of the ball and got 22 more shots. We got to the free throw line, but didn't make shots."
St. John's scored the first six points of the second half to quickly turn a four-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead. Jones converted a layup-and-one and Mussini made a 3 to put the Red Storm up 41-39. Lynn answered with a 3 at the other end, but another Mussini triple put St. John's up 45-44. A Jenkins 3-pointer later tied the game before Mussini converted again from downtown to give the Red Storm a 50-47 lead at the 14:39 mark.
Lynn sparked a 15-0 run with a 3-pointer as the Highlanders opened a 12-point advantage. St. John's chipped away and Mvouika's 3 cut the deficit to five with 1:07 left in regulation. NJIT turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds play and the Red Storm made it a three-point game with a pair of free throws by Johnson. However, the Highlanders broke the St. John's pressure on the next possession leading to a bucket by Lynn to go up 77-72. NJIT then sank six straight free-throws in the final 34 seconds to seal the win.
"We just have to play with force consistently," said Mvouika. "We've been having ups and down during the games and the teams we're playing are coming at us from the beginning to the end. At some point we just have to get out of that dark cloud and play more consistent."
It was an uphill battle for the Red Storm from the beginning as NJIT shot 7-for-11 (63.6 percent) from 3-point range in the first half. The Highlanders led by nine midway through the stanza after consecutive 3s by Jenkins. Mvouika and Mussini sank two 3s apiece in the first half and got St. John's within one less than five minutes before intermission. Jenkins responded with two triples of his own and Lynn sank another to lead NJIT into the break with a 39-35 advantage.
The Red Storm limited its turnovers to 10, but struggled at the free-throw line going 18-of-34 (52.9 percent) in the contest. NJIT turned the ball over 19 times.
"At any level when you play with aggression and you put your imprint on the game, you dictate what goes on," said Mullin. "The numbers would say we did that. If we made more shots we'd probably be sitting here with a win.
Mullin continued, "I told them I'd rather have shots than turnovers so we did better there. The next step is to get good shots and make them."
Sima, who entered the contest second in the nation averaging 3.6 blocks, swatted three more shots on Sunday. The 6-foot-11 freshman center collected eight of his 14 rebounds on the offensive glass.
St. John's returns to action on Dec. 22 with a 9 p.m. game against RV/25 South Carolina as part of the Hall of Fame Shootout at Mohegan Sun Arena.