With a two-game winning streak on the line and an opportunity to defeat their in-state rival, the Johnnies pulled off a shocking 84 to 72 win on Sunday at Madison Square Garden against a talented Syracuse Orange team that was without head coach Jim Boeheim.
Federico Mussini led the Johnnies in scoring with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting (only two turnovers) while Durand Johnson chipped in 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting while knocking down three threes against the visitors' vaunted zone defense. Yankuba Sima scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds and Amar Alibegovic, 15 points, nine rebounds and three threes, had the best game of his St. John's career off the bench.
Kassoum Yakwe, 15 points, used his length and athleticism on both ends of the floor while Ron Mvouika added 10 points and had only three turnovers.
The Red Storm came out of the gate with intensity, impressive ball movement and tough defensive energy, giving themselves confidence and an early 8-5 lead at the under 16 minute media timeout. The Orange went on a quick 7-0 run with 13:56 left in the opening stanza but Alibegovic came off the bench, sparking the Johnnies with seven points including a monster put back slam.
Chris Mullin made an excellent adjustment versus Cuse's zone late in the first half that helped them open up a nine-point lead at the break. With Sima failing to make an impact at the high post because of his developing jump shot, the Johnnies decided to move Ron Mvouika to Sima's slot, creating another shooting option that the Orange had to contain. The Red Storm found gaps and open jumpers in the opening stanza, shooting 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from downtown. They also dominated the boards 26-14.
The Johnnies quickly got into foul trouble in the second frame, sending the Orange to the line 21 times, but Syracuse failed to take advantage, hitting just 57 percent in the second half and 61 percent total for the game. Mike Hopkins' team also couldn't find their touch from downtown as they knocked down just five threes on the afternoon (19 percent). Every time the Orange seemed to inch closer, the Johnnies would respond with crisp passing (22 assists on 30 field goals), which kept their lead consistent until the visitors implemented a press.
With less than four minutes left, Syracuse cut the lead down to seven but they missed multiple easy layups at the rim and Malachi Richardson bricked a wide open three that would have put a lot of pressure on a young Johnnies team with inexperience closing big games.
St. John's turned the ball over 15 times, shot 49 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three. They also out-rebounded Syracuse 51 to 36 in a stunning start-to-finish performance.
Syracuse was led by Michael Gbinije (21 points) and Richardson (15 points), but Trevor Cooney was held to 11 points and a single three.
The Red Storm (7-3) will have the chance to improve their winning streak against Incarnate Word (3-4) at Carnesecca Arena after a four-day break due to final exams.