Chris Mullin's first game at Madison Square Garden as head coach of the Red Storm was an instant success as the Johnnies bounced back from an ugly loss at Fordham with an 63-56 win over St. Francis Brooklyn (3-5) on Sunday.
Yankuba Sima came into the game as the team's seventh leading scorer but he was ready to play under the bright lights, dropping 17 points (10 rebounds) on 8-of-12 shooting despite playing with a dislocated pinky for most of the afternoon. Durand Johnson was also terrific for the Red Storm as he scored 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
Kassoum Yakwe, two points and two blocks, and Christian Jones, 13 points, took advantage of the Terriers lack of height as they grabbed a combined 10 rebounds while Felix Balamou added six points and a couple of key defensive plays off the bench. The Johnnies were once again without Darien Williams (shoulder) and Malik Ellison (foot) and there is currently no timetable for their return.
Glenn Braica's team jumped out to a quick 23-14 lead as Mullin's squad was giving the ball away, getting out-hustled on the glass, struggling with their spacing and failing to find open shots. The Terriers found success in transition and they created easy shot opportunities with crisp passing until Mullin's team finally made adjustments.
Over the final 6:31 of the first half, the Red Storm tightened up their defense, found easy buckets in transition and used the hot hand from Johnson to create a 19-2 run. The Terriers went scoreless for nearly seven minutes before Yunus Hopkinson Jr. hit a short jumper on the run before the halftime buzzer expired.
Johnson's 10 points during the period of strong play gave the Johnnies an eight point lead and momentum heading into the break.
In the second half, it was all about Sima as the big man showed his potential to score all over the floor by knocking down a three from the top of the key and finishing with both hands around the rim. Mullin said following the Fordham match-up that the team's first preference offensively was to work the ball into the paint and it sure worked this afternoon with Federico Mussini (six assists and just one turnover) feeding Sima with an array of nice touch passes.
St. John's had a comfortable lead for a majority of the second half but the Terriers cut the lead to two with less than a minute remaining. Johnson then nailed a short corner jumper to put the Red Storm up for good.
The Johnnies finished the game shooting 42 percent from the field and 25 percent from downtown while they limited St. Francis Brooklyn to just six threes. Despite turning the ball over 18 times, St. John's controlled the glass, out-rebounding the Terriers by 12.
The road team was led by senior forward Antonio Jenifer (10 points), senior guard Tyreek Jewell (nine points) and senior big man Chris Hooper (nine points).
The Johnnies (5-3) will now focus on the Niagara Purple Eagles (3-5), who will make the trip to Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday at 5 p.m to match-up with Mullin's squad. St. John's last played the Purple Eagles in 2014, defeating them 70 to 57.