It was slow at first, but St. John’s went across the river and were taken out late at the Rutgers Athletic Center, leaving with a 80-78 loss in an exhibition game to benefit the Red Cross.
It looked so much easier on paper - even on the road. But exhibition games are there for learning, and the Johnnies learned more than they would have against a Division II team this afternoon in New Jersey.
Despite the perimeter shots not falling - and St. John’s taking nearly half their shots from beyond the arc - the Red Storm managed to be up 35-30 at the half.
But the opening of the second half saw a 4-0 spurt by the Knights to bring them within one. After a time out, the Johnnies did a better job at ball movement and attacking Rutgers inside... and playing a game that looked more like how they might want to play, rather than an outside shooting exhibition.
But, of course, there is a team on the other side, hosting the game. And those Scarlet Knights came galloping back behind the constant force of DeShawn Freeman (28 points, 12 rebounds), despite the Red Storm leading by as much as 10 with fifteen minutes left in the game.
“We just let up defensively,” Mullin said after the game. “Got a little lackadaisical [on defense].”
Freeman, who could not be contained in the post by Bashir Ahmed (or anyone else), who often was tasked with checking him, dropped 28 points on St. John’s, keeping Rutgers close enough for an exciting run late.
Corey Sanders (16 points), saddled with foul trouble late, came on late, aided by some poor St. John’s passing and solid play on both ends by Rutgers wing Issa Thiam (5 points). Sanders scored scored five straight points to pull the home team within three. Freeman drew a foul after a St. John’s turnover to cut the deficit to one.
Corey Sanders gave the Knights the lead with 4:35 left, nailing a three in Marcus LoVett’s face off the dribble. Rutgers enjoyed as much as a five-point lead before a layup by LoVett and two consecutive layups by Shamorie Ponds brought the lead back to St. John’s - by one point - with just a minute remaining.
A foul drawn by DeShawn Freeman tied the game. With 19 seconds left, Rutgers got the ball back after an Ahmed miss. Corey Sanders missed a driving shot, but Issa Thiam, with a weakside rebound, tipped the ball in with three seconds left for the win.
Shamorie Ponds led St. John’s with 25 points. Marcus LoVett had 16 and Justin Simon added 13 points. Ponds added six assists; Simon and Ponds led with seven rebounds each.
This was the final dress rehearsal before the Johnnies take on New Orleans on Friday night to start the regular season.