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St. John's vs. Creighton final: 80-70; Johnnies downed in their Big East opener

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Malik Ellison showed a lot of promise in a loss.

By: Wendell Cruz
By: Wendell Cruz

Even with the non-conference schedule in the rear view mirror, St. John's could not snap their three game losing streak in their first Big East game against Creighton, falling 80 to 70 at Carnesecca Arena on New Year's Eve.

Durand Johnson, who came off the bench for the first time this season, had another solid outing, as he scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and played solid defense against quick point guard Maurice Watson. But Federico Mussini (five points on 1-of-8 shooting) was unable to find his rhythm for virtually the entire afternoon and Ron Mvouika scored two points and battled foul trouble for most of the game.

The Johnnies did get Felix Balamou (foot) back but it was Malik Ellison (17 points) who was really impressive and had the best game of his Johnnies career. Ellison attacked off the dribble and showed more comfort than at any point this season. Yankuba Sima was another bright spot for St. John's. He put up 12 points, grabbed five boards and shot 6-for-13 from the floor.

In the opening half, Johnson scored seven of the home team's first nine points while Cole Huff (six of Creighton's first eight points) was beating the Red Storm consistently from the perimeter to match the graduate transfer's production. The Johnnies fell behind 28-17 with 5:36 remaining in the first stanza but a long Mussini three pointer and solid free throw shooting sparked a critical 8-0 St. John's run. Chris Mullin's squad limited Creighton to just three three pointers (27 percent), out-rebounded their opponent by seven and played with toughness in the paint against Geoffrey Groselle and company.

The Johnnies trailed by only four points at the break but nine turnovers, streaky perimeter shooting, and the lack of ball movement (only four first half assists) stunted their ability to take any kind of lead.

Creighton's offensive performance was much improved in the second half as the visitors put up 47 points, shot 46 percent from downtown and got to the free throw line with ease. Groselle was also unstoppable with multiple up and under moves that prevented Sima and Kassoum Yakwe from blocking shots and Watson's ability to penetrate opened up some long range jumpers.

The Johnnies never let up as they fought until the end and showed good consistent energy. But they shot 42 percent from the floor, had 12 total giveaways, knocked down just four threes and shot just 63 percent from the free throw strike.

The Blue Jays had terrific balance and more talent with Huff (16 points on 3-of-12 shooting), Maurice Watson (17 points and eight assists), James Milliken (11 points) and Groselle (22 points and five rebounds) all scoring in double figures. Isaiah Zierden scored just seven points on two threes while talented freshman Khyri Thomas did not score but played solid defense.

Next up for the Johnnies (7-7) is a trip to Rhode Island as they will face off against Kris Dunn, Ed Cooley and the 12th ranked Providence Friars.