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St. John's vs. Niagara final: 48-44; Johnnies grind out a victory over the Purple Eagles

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St. John's escapes and will own a two-game winning streak heading into the Syracuse game on Sunday.

By: Wendell Cruz
By: Wendell Cruz

If you like offense, this was not the game for you.

Despite facing a struggling Niagara squad (3-7), the Johnnies had a difficult time grinding out a victory against the Purple Eagles, 48 to 44, at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday evening. It was a balanced (but ugly) attack for the Red Storm as all eight players who touched the floor scored at least two points. Federico Mussini led the team with 11 points and had four rebounds while Christian Jones scored 10 points and Yankuba Sima added six points and six boards in just 17 minutes.

Kassoum Yakwe (five points, five rebounds and five blocks) provided much needed energy off the bench with Sima battling foul trouble for the majority of the second half. Durand Johnson, Felix Balamou and Ron Mvouika also made contributions, combining for 18 points and 17 rebounds.

It was a brutal opening half of basketball for both teams as they combined to launch 20 shots from the perimeter and turned the ball over 16 total times. The Johnnies opened up a nine point lead with 1:44 remaining before the break thanks to an 8-0 run sparked by six straight points from Balamou.

St. John's held a 27-20 lead at halftime as they maintained solid ball movement (seven assists on 11 field goals) and defended the three point line successfully. But they also failed to take advantage of the Purple Eagles' lack of size, keeping Chris Casey's team in the game. Sima, Yakwe and Christian Jones (x points) did not have enough post-up opportunities and the front court was out-rebounded by one in the first stanza.

The level of play didn't improve much in the second half as the Johnnies shot 32 percent from the field, 20 percent from downtown and were very sloppy with their offensive sets. Sima also picked up his 4th foul with 9:15 remaining so he played just seven minutes in the second half while Johnson didn't score a single point.

Despite their own inept offensive play, the Purple Eagles cut what was a comfortable double-digit Red Storm lead to only three with less than a minute remaining. Christian Jones knocked home two clutch free throws and Mullin's team locked up on the other end of the court to earn a much-needed win.

The Johnnies was bothered by Niagara's press (18 total turnovers), hit just three long range jumpers and shot 50 percent from the free throw strike. On the bright side, Yakwe and Jones provided toughness in the paint, helping the team gain five more rebounds than the Purple Eagles and eight more points in the paint.

Niagara was led by Emile Blackmon (16 points), Matt Scott (14 points) and Domininc Robb (7 points). They only shot 25 percent from the field, 17 percent from downtown and committed 16 giveaways.

Next up for the Red Storm (6-3) is one of the more intriguing tests of their non-conference slate, a battle with the Jim Boeheim-less Orange (7-2) at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.