Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Chris Mullin Wins Coaching Debut as St. John’s tops Wagner
NEW YORK –– First year St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin has played in a Final Four, won an Olympic gold medal and given a speech in front of hundreds of his peers at his Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction.
And even with all the high-profile basketball situations he’s found himself in over the years, he still woke up Friday morning with a knot in his stomach.
“I’d say I was anxious and nervous,” Mullin said after the Red Storm topped Wagner 66-57 to win Friday’s regular season opener and the St. John’s legend’s coaching debut. “Before I left the house, I said to my wife ‘Can you believe I’m nervous for this game?’ She said ‘I don’t want to hear it.'”
After struggling last week in both exhibition contests, including a 90-58 loss to Division II program St. Thomas Aquinas, Italian point guard Federico Mussini paced the Johnnies with a game-high 18 points to go along with three rebounds, a pair of assists and just three turnovers.
Mussini also buried four of his six shots from beyond the arc, with his right-corner dagger with 1:12 remaining giving St. John’s a 60-54 lead they would never relinquish.
“I knew that when I was open, I had the shot,” Mussini said. “I need to shoot with confidence.”
“Rico’s a great shooter who knows how to play the game. He’s a good point guard for us,” added forward Durand Johnson, who scored 12 points, added eight rebounds and assisted Mussini on his game-sealing three. “When I was driving and saw Federico in the corner, on the pass I could have just ran back on defense because I knew it was going in.”
The Johnnies struggled to extend their minuscule leads throughout the game, however, as Wagner outrebounded the Queens squad 42-38 and racked up 11 second-chance points compared to their Red Storm’s three. But both Johnson and Mullin said they were pleased with the team’s growth when it comes to team defense, as Wagner shot just 31 percent from the floor.
“For the most part, I think we played hard defensively,” Johnson said. “Offense won’t be pretty every night but defense wins games and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
“The thing that’s gonna help us win games right now is defense and rebounding,” Mullin added. “We’ve spent a lot of time on our team defense and our individual philosophies. We drill it.”
When asked postgame how annoyed he was with the NCAA over its unfortunately timed rulings, after saying last week prior to the LoVett ruling that he may fly to Indianapolis himself to investigate the delay, Mullin simply smiled and said “no comment.”
Mussini, the only other true point guard on the roster besides LoVett, called on the rest of his teammates to pick up the slack in the absence of the Chicago product.
“I don’t feel pressure, I just know I have to work hard and get better,” the Italian said. “Everybody together has to take his place.”
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.