Dec. 6, 2015
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NEW YORK - St. John's erased an early nine-point deficit by closing the first half on a 19-2 run and withstood a late charge from St. Francis Brooklyn to register a 63-56 victory in the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival. It was the program's 1,800th victory as St. John's became only the ninth team in history to reach the milestone, while it also marked the first win at "The World's Most Famous Arena" for Chris Mullin, who was making his Garden coaching debut Sunday.
"I love this place. I always have. I always will," said Mullin. "I think I enjoyed playing here more than coaching, but yet again it's a new experience. A 52-year-old guy having a new experience like that is pretty cool. It was nice seeing Coach Carnesecca behind me, which was pretty surreal."
Freshman Yankuba Sima (Girona, Spain) had a career performance scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to secure his first double-double for St. John's (5-3). Durand Johnson (Baltimore, Md.) also finished with a career-high 19 points, including a jumper to beat the shot clock and give the Red Storm a four-point lead with just 32 seconds left in regulation. Christian Jones (Arlington, Texas) added 13 points as the Red Storm had three players finish with double-figures.
St. John's posted a +12 (45-33) edge on the glass and had 12 blocks, including five from Sima, to limit the Terriers to just 33.9 percent (21-of-62) shooting from the floor.
Yunus Hopkinson and Antonio Jenifer had 10 points apiece to pace St. Francis Brooklyn (3-5). The Terriers shot just 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from distance.
"I give St. Francis a lot of credit. They are a tough team and they play hard. Glenn Braica is a great coach and a great guy," said Mullin. "We will learn from this and in the long run be better for it. If you want to be good, if you want to be successful you take all your experiences and you learn from them."
After a pair of Felix Balamou (Conakry, Guinea) free throws tied the game at 12-12, Chris Hooper made consecutive layups to jumpstart an 11-2 run that gave the Terriers a 23-14 lead with 6:43 left to play in the half.
St. John's answered, however, and surged to a 10-point lead by scoring 19 straight points over a six minute stretch. Sima started things with a putback slam before Johnson added a layup and two Federico Mussini (Reggio Emilia, Italy) free throws made it a three-point game. Johnson then scored the next eight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, as the Red Storm went up 28-23.
Balamou extended the rally with a layup before Jones followed up his own shot with a putback to cap the 19-0 run and give St. John's a 33-23 lead with just 11 seconds left in the half. St. Francis Brooklyn was held scoreless for a stretch of 6:41 before Hopkinson knocked down a jumper with two seconds on the clock making it a 33-25 game at the break.
Sima scored the Red Storm's first seven points in the second half. The 6-foot-11 center converted a pair of layups and drained his first-career 3-pointer to send St. John's ahead 40-29 at the 17:31 mark.
The Terriers then turned to the 3-point shot as treys from Gunnar Olafsson and Jenifer cut the Red Storm lead to five. After another 3 from Jenifer pulled St. Francis Brooklyn to within 44-40, Johnson scored five points fueling a 9-0 run that gave the Red Storm its largest lead of the game at 53-40.
St. Francis Brooklyn scored six-straight points and eventually cut the lead to 57-55 with just 1:04 on the clock. Coming out of a timeout, Johnson drained his key jumper and the Red Storm went 4-of-4 at the line to secure the victory.
"I caught the ball in scoring range and I saw the shot clock at four seconds so I took the shot with a lot of confidence and it went in," said Johnson.
St. John's returns to Carnesecca Arena and hosts Niagara on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the 100th all-time meeting between the programs.