With a chance to snap their six game losing streak and earn their first Big East victory, St. John's played with purpose offensively and with energy defensively but fell short against the Marquette Golden Eagles, 81 to 75, at the Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Golden Eagles were able to take care of their business after a win on the road against a top-10 Providence team despite getting out-hustled for the majority of the game. Marquette also had trouble dealing with Kassoum Yakwe. Playing without Yankuba Sima (broken bone in his hand), Yakwe stepped up and had a career game, as he scored 9 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots while providing physical play in the paint.
The Red Storm had good balance as Federico Mussini had 10 points while Ron Mvouika added 13 points and Durand Johnson put up 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Christian Jones scored six straight points to begin the second half and finished with just three rebounds. Malik Ellison and Felix Balamou also contributed with a combined 15 points.
The Johnnies controlled the first half by using their face pace tempo to negate Marquette's size advantage and by attacking Luke Fischer and Henry Ellenson, forcing both to play limited minutes due to foul trouble. When Fischer left the game with two fouls, the Red Storm were only up two but quickly went on 13-5 run. St. John's was also red hot from beyond the arc, knocking down 7-of-11 threes while playing a deadly match-up zone that forced the Golden Eagles to launch shots from the perimeter.
St. John's had a double digit lead with a minute remaining in the half, but they allowed Haanif Cheatham to race up the court and finish two easy layups, cutting the lead to just eight points at the break. Marquette had 10 first half turnovers and their best player, Ellenson, was out-played by Yakwe in the paint.
But Ellenson's lack of production (two points in the first) did not hold firm in the second half as the big man took over at the start of the second to lead the Golden Eagles on an offensive outburst. He helped storm Marquette back into the game despite an incredible effort by Yakwe. The big man was everywhere, altering shots left and right and playing tough against Fischer, who fouled out with 1:43 remaining.
The zone worked to perfection in the first frame. But Duane Wilson (14 total points) was able to find wide open looks in the second half and buried three of his four three pointers attempted. The Golden Eagles moved the ball to perfection (23 assists on 28 field goals) and held a 65-63 lead at the under four minute minute timeout.
Down the stretch, the Johnnies showed their inexperience as Balamou missed the front end of a one-of-one and the offense struggled to find good looks despite running the better sets for the majority of the game.
The Red Storm had less turnovers than Marquette (18 to the Golden Eagles 20), shot 45 percent from the field and drilled 11 threes but were out-rebounded by seven and the home team shot 47 percent from the floor. Marquette also had shot a better percentage from the free throw line.