Chris Mullin's opening act at his old stopping grounds was a success as St. John's held off Wagner, 66-57, in front of a packed house at Carnesecca Arena.
Federico Mussini, 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, used his crafty handles and smooth stroke to lead the Johnnies in scoring. While he struggled early with Wagner's pressure defense, Mussini settled in and only turned the ball over three times and dished out two assists. Durand Johnson added 12 points while Ron Mvouika put up nine points and Yankuba Sima, eight points and eight rebounds, played well in the paint.
In the opening half, the Red Storm struggled on the defensive glass, giving up eight offensive rebounds, and they also defended the three ball in poor fashion with the Seahawks hitting four shots from downtown. St. John's trailed by as many as five points with 5:04 left in the first frame but Mullin's squad handled the press successfully and Mussini got hot late, scoring five straight points before the break.
Mike Aaman, Wagner's top returning scorer, picked up his second foul with 8:59 remaining in the first half and did not return until the second. He finished with zero points and was a non-factor all night.
After opening up a six point lead early in the second half, the Johnnies started to launch three pointer after three pointer against the Seahawks zone defense instead of attacking the rim or the gaps. The team's poor shot selection sparked a 10-0 Wagner run.
The game remained tight for the remainder of the half until Mussini drilled a clutch corner three, off an excellent kick-out pass from Johnson, to put the team up by six. Wagner missed free throws down the stretch and the Johnnies defense buckled up to pull out the victory.
St. John's was out-rebounded 42 to 37 and turned the ball over 14 times but they shot 45 percent from the field and 45 percent from downtown.
Felix Balamou, one of the three returnees from last season's NCAA Tournament team, did not play. He was not in uniform as the NCAA declared him ineligible because of an unspecified rule violation.
The Seahawks, who are predicted to finish in the middle of the pack in the NEC, were led by Henson, 16 points, Dwaun Anderson, 11 points, and Japhet Kadji, 14 points. Henson shot 6-for-15 from the field and hit multiple big shots to keep the Johnnies from pulling away early in the second.
Next up for St. John's will be a date with UMBC, who is ranked 331st (out of 351 Division I teams) in the country according to Kenpom, on campus on Monday at 7 p.m.