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Chemistry and athleticism: the key to St. John's 2-0 start to the season

High flying athetes and a deep bench, so far

NCAA Basketball: Binghamton at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Johnnies couldn’t have asked for a better start to their season as they crushed the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 100-53 in their home opener last Friday night and then followed it up with a convincing 77-61 win over Binghamton Monday.

This team wanted to erase the memories of an abysmal 8-24 record from last year, and so far they have excelled tremendously.

In fact, the last time St. John’s won a game by more than 40 points was on December 7th, 2013, when they defeated the Fordham Rams on the road 104-58.

On Friday night, Chris Mullin’s squad set the tempo and was efficient on offense from start with a starting lineup that included Malik Ellison, Shamorie Ponds, Bashir Ahmed, Tariq Owens, and Yankuba Sima. The team shot over 62% from the field, including 54 bench points led by sophomore guard Federico Mussini who finished with 20 points and redshirt freshman Marcus LoVett with 19 points. The team shot 50% from 3-point range behind the shooting of Mussini who made 5 out of his 6 attempts.

Monday night was a similar story for the Johnnies. Freshman guards Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds continued their terrific play on offense, combining for 44 of the team’s 77 points. Ponds was the premier player of the game last night, finishing with a double-double (21 points & 10 rebounds) and also had 3 steals. Marcus LoVett also played tremendously on offense, leading the team in scoring last night with 23 points (9/16 FG%).

Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe showed an intimidating physical presence in the paint. Although Binghamton only trailed by seven points at the half last night, St. John’s was able to tighten up their defensive play and was able to run away with the game late in the second half.

The team’s depth and athleticism has been clearly evident the first two games this season. In the home opener, all 12 dressed players for the Johnnies saw action on the floor and 11 out of the 12 players contributed in the scoring department - a collective effort on the floor.

Despite the collective effort, the team is willing to ride a hot hand - Mussini one night, Ponds and LoVett another. And those players were willing to take increased attention to find their teammates for solid passes for easy scores. That unselfishness led to the fast break offense Mullin has wanted to see, with the players finishing off possessions with fast break dunks or long range jumpers.

Amar Alibegovic stressed the importance of team chemistry during their annual media day a couple of weeks ago. It clearly showed in the early going. The team played with free, intuitive spirit of a pickup game, something we rarely saw from Chris Mullin’s team last year.

Yes, the two teams that they played so far haven’t been much of a test for the Johnnies, but it was crucial for the team to start Chris Mullin’s second year on a good note.

They will need to utilize their athleticism and deep roster if they want to stay undefeated as they face two mighty Big Ten opponents, visiting Big Ten foe Minnesota Friday night in the Gavitt Games, followed by No. 13 Michigan State to open the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on November 23rd.