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St. John’s Loses Fourth Straight, Falls to Creighton in Big East Opener
NEW YORK — Every time it appeared momentum was finally shifting in the Red Storm’s favor, Creighton had an answer.
St. John’s dropped its first Big East contest of the year on Thursday, falling 80-70 to the Bluejays (10-4, 1-0) at Carnesecca Arena in a game marred with missed opportunities and the Johnnies’ inability to come up with key stops in the second half.
“I’m not exactly sure why,” Red Storm guard Durand Johnson said when asked why his team couldn’t keep pace with Creighton over the game’s final 15 minutes. “The energy was there. The confidence was there. It was just one of those things where we just have to keep building.”
It’s the fourth loss in a row for the Johnnies (7-7, 0-1) , who are still in search of their first win since upsetting rival Syracuse 84-72 at Madison Square Garden on December 13.
“Overall, it was just OK. Not good enough to win,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “Our overall pace and energy has to increase.”
After trailing by as much as nine early in a sloppy first half, the Johnnies cut the Bluejays lead to just 39-37 three minutes into the second frame after Johnson drained a deep three from the right wing.
With the near sell-out crowd at Carnesecca Arena finally coming alive, Creighton immediately responded with a three of its own from junior guard Maurice Watson.
Red Storm center Yankuba Sima followed with a powerful two-handed slam to trim the Bluejays lead to just three, but the freshman was hit with a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
After nailing the free throw, Creighton guard Isaiah Zierden buried a clutch corner three, pounding his chest as the crowd fell silent.
The Bluejays, paced by center Geoffrey Groselle’s game-high 22 points on 9-10 shooting, never led by less than six the rest of the game, as the Nebraska school shot an efficient 52 percent in the second half.
Groselle, Watson (17 points), Huff (14) and James Milliken (11) all finished in double figures for Creighton.
“We’ve just got to get better,” Johnson said. “I feel like we have. We just have to keep pushing, keep building and keep moving forward.”
Freshman point guard Federico Mussini, whose 14 points-per-game lead the Red Storm, was held in check the entire day, as the Italian product scored just five points while shooting 1-8 from the field.
Johnson, who scored 14 in the contest, was a mere afterthought in the second half, contributing just two points over the game’s final 12 minutes.
One of the few bright spots for St. John’s was freshman guard Malik Ellison, who scored a team- and career-high 17 points and snagged six rebounds in just 24 minutes.
After missing eight games with a left foot injury earlier in the season, Ellison’s work ethic and a gritty play will give the Red Storm a tremendous boost to the Red Storm as he gets healthier, according to Mullin.
“He came to us on crutches basically,” the St. John’s head man said. “He’s a hard worker. We all know he’s going to be a heck of a player, but it’s all about getting experience in game time.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott agreed with Mullin on Ellison’s future, saying he and his teammates are poised to become a real threat in the Big East in the coming seasons.
“You just have to point to the win against Syracuse and look at how well they played,” McDermott said. “It’s there, but with inexperience comes inconsistency, usually.”
He added that he fully expects Sima, specifically, to become “one heck of a player in our league in the years to come.”
The Red Storm look to snap their four-game skid on the road against Providence on Saturday, while Creighton returns home to square off with Villanova.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, 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.