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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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Sunday / January 20.
  • St. John’s Flops in First MSG Game This Season, Falls to 5-7

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    NEW YORK — It didn’t have to be this way for St. John’s.

    Coming off a disheartening loss to LIU Brooklyn last Sunday and with a full week to prepare for Penn State, the Red Storm could have brought a newfound edge, energy, and sense of urgency with them to their first game of the season at Madison Square Garden.

    None of those traits were apparent, however, as St. John’s (5-7) quickly unraveled in a 92-76 loss to Penn State (7-5) early Sunday afternoon in the first game of the 2016 Advanced Auto Parts Holiday Festival.

    St. John’s trailed by as many as 27, falling victim to a 35-5 Nittany Lions’ run to close out the first half. Following some early flashes of inspired basketball—St. John’s did lead 24-17 early—the Red Storm elected to press the snooze button, getting run off the floor despite Marcus LoVett’s return from an ankle injury.

    “Part of this is the process of doing just that—learning a certain level of intensity,” said Chris Mullin, who falls to 13-31 on the sidelines at his alma mater. “And they’ve done it in glimpses, had some good showings. Maintaining it has been the problem.”

    The Red Storm, who have lost seven of their last ten contests, have one more nonconference matchup remaining: at Syracuse on Wednesday. After that, it doesn’t figure to get any easier with conference play looming.

    The Big East went a combined 7-0 on Saturday, including impressive wins by Butler (over Indiana), Xavier (over Wake Forest), and Georgetown (over Syracuse).

    St. John’s then had to spoil a potential perfect weekend for the league by allowing Penn State to shoot 50% from the floor, make 13 three-pointers, and drop 92 points—the most Penn State has scored since a double-overtime loss to Charlotte back in November 2014.

    Year Two of the Chris Mullin Era, accompanied by a nice recruiting class, was supposed to yield some serious improvement from last year’s 8-24 squad. Instead, it’s been more of the same. So where does St. John’s go from here?

    “Not only do you hate to lose and get embarrassed—all those emotions—but what you really have to do is learn from this,” Mullin said.

    Mullin, who mentioned “using the experience of failing as a learning tool,” isn’t ruling this season out just yet. But the clock is certainly ticking.

    “I think we have plenty of games left, and I’ve seen enough good things from these guys that I’m optimistic,” he said.

    On Sunday, not enough good things were seen from the dynamic freshman duo of LoVett and Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s two leading scorers.

    LoVett had 10 points on 3 of 9 shooting, committing six turnovers to just one assist as the point guard struggled to find his rhythm following a three-game absence.

    Ponds had arguably his worst collegiate game yet, finishing with 12 points on a nightmarish 3 of 17 line from the field (including 1 of 10 from inside the arc).

    That’s not going to get the job done against any opponent, namely a Penn State team led by Shep Garner’s 21 points and Payton Banks contributing 17.

    At the very least for St. John’s, it has a believer in Penn State coach Pat Chambers.

    “They’re going to be very good,” Chambers predicted of the Red Storm. “They’re young and they are extremely, extremely talented. Scary to watch them on film…fun team to watch.”

    Then again, if a compliment from the opposing coach is the most positive takeaway from what could have been a statement game, St. John’s has issues.

    Photo: @StJohnsBball

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