Remember when St. John's was demolished by St. Thomas Aquinas?
That seems like forever ago.
St. John's has failed to earn a victory in their first three Big East match-ups, but the team has remained competitive and had a chance to steal a victory in all three games.
The most impressive performance of conference play so far came on Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena, as the Johnnies lost to Xavier by just eight points. It was certainly closer than the score indicates and the Red Storm almost sent shock waves throughout the nation without one of their better players, Yankuba Sima.
"There's been tremendous improvement across the board," Chris Mullin said following the game. "I let these guys know how much they are improving and there has been a lot. Individually, as a team. This group has played 16 games now. That's nothing. We're light years ahead of where we were a month ago."
So while a loss is a loss. This is another step in the right direction for a team that continues to show drastic developments. Here are three takeaways from last night's showdown:
Federico Mussini is going to be fun to watch for years to come
He may not be the tallest or the strongest point guard, but Mussini is crafty, creative and has the ability to hit shots from anywhere on the floor when he has space and is in rhythm. He has played out of position all season so when Marcus LoVett or Shamorie Ponds step on the floor next year, Mussini will have an even greater impact and will be even more exciting to watch because he won't have to be the lead ball handler.
When the Johnnies played Syracuse, interim head coach Mike Hopkins said Mussini hit some "Steph Curry like shots" and that's exactly what happened on Wednesday night. The Italian point guard nailed four threes in less than six minutes and was one of the main reasons the Johnnies had a chance to notch a win down the stretch.
Sure, Mussini struggled greatly in the first two conference games versus Creighton and Providence and his critical technical foul on Wednesday was a killer, but this is a player that is still getting his feet wet.
"He's going to be phenomenal," Ron Mvouika said. "There's not a lot of 18-year old guys that can come from another country and run a team in the Big East as a point guard. He's going to make mistakes but I'm proud of him. I keep telling him, 'don't worry about the mistakes you make keep playing with confidence.'"
Mvouika sees it. Mullin sees it. Mussini is just getting started at St. John's.
While there were a lot of positives to take away from this outing, the Johnnies really struggled shooting the ball for the majority of the game. They shot 34 percent from all areas of the floor, 24 percent from three point range and Mullin's team also started the game 3-of-18 from the floor. That's not going to cut it moving forward and St. John's could have dug themselves into a bigger hole if Xavier wasn't playing sloppy on the offensive end without point guard Edmond Sumner.
Durand Johnson had 12 points but his shot selection continues to be a problem for the Red Storm. It wasn't only Johnson though, as the Johnnies did not seem to work the Musketeers 1-3-1 zone as successfully as they did against Syracuse's 2-3 zone back in December.
Battle on the boards
Xavier is known for their ability to control the paint with the physical presence of Jalen Reynolds and the experience and toughness of James Farr. Surprisingly, the Johnnies were only out-rebounded by three despite having Sima in the game for just 11 minutes. (Sima left with a hand injury and his timetable is TBD)
And it wasn't just the big men who were crashing the glass - it was everyone. Mvouika, Johnson and Mussini had a combined 14 rebounds.
Crashing the glass can be about effort and energy and the Johnnies had plenty in the second half, as they fed off a rowdy crowd in Queens.