basketball Edit

St. John's crushed in Garden Opener vs. Penn State

Sophomore guard Malik Ellison (0) recorded a career-high 22 points
Sophomore guard Malik Ellison (0) recorded a career-high 22 points (SJU Athletics)

NEW YORK, NY - While Madison Square Garden serves as St. John’s home-away-from-home, the Red Storm looked like strangers on their unofficial home court as they watched Penn State hand them a crushing loss in their 2016-17 Garden opener.

Marcus LoVett returned to the court after missing the last three games with a sprained ankle, but the redshirt freshman showed rust following a two-week stint away from competitive action, committing six turnovers while the team gave away 21 possessions to the Nittany Lions (7-5).

The 92-76 loss was the seventh losing result of the season, but it marked the 31st in two seasons under Chris Mulin, who went 98-30 in his four-year career at St. John's (5-7), which included a Final Four berth that highlighted multiple postseason trips.

"I'll never make excuses but part of this is the process … of learning the certain level of intensity [it takes to win],” Mullin said. “They've done it in glimpses. We've had some good showings, [but] maintaining it has been the problem. When things don’t go their way, I was telling them after the game not only do you hate to lose and it’s embarrassing, but what you really have to do is you have to learn from this."

“People that have success, the other experience they have is failing. And they use that as a learning tool.”

In his return, LoVett scored 10 points but failed to hit a 3-pointer in his four attempts from distance. Shamorie Ponds, who shined as he picked up Big East freshman honors in Ponds’ absence, had an unsavory Garden debut for his collegiate career, missing 14 of 17 attempts on the game en route to 12 points. Bashir Ahmed had six points on 2 of 9, while Malik Ellison finished with a game-high 22 points.

"I know when all three of them play like that, we're going to struggle,” Mullin said, “but we haven't seen all three guys struggle like that in the same (game). If three of your top players struggle like that, it's going to be a tough night."

Penn State coach Pat Chambers cited the length of his perimeter players (Tony Carr, Payton Banks, and Josh Reaves are all listed as guards over 6-foot-3) as factors that helped slow down the touted St. John’s backcourt, but also admitted the freshmen duo simply didn’t connect on familiar attempts.

Five different Nittany Lions finished in double-digits led by Shep Garner, who fouled out after pouring in 21 on 6 of 9 3-PT shooting. Mike Watkins had a double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds and Payton Banks hit five 3’s for 17 points as Penn State shot 57 percent from 3, a rarity under Chambers.

A resounding 35-5 run, which spanned roughly 10 minutes, was the difference Sunday. After jumping out to a 24-17 lead, St. John’s failed to hit another field goal in the opening half and the floodgates opened as Carr began piercing through the defense to set himself and others up, while the perimeter shooters added timely 3’s to create the insurmountable distance.

“We gave them the ultimate confidence,” Mullin said of the stretch, which topped at a 27-point margin. “Then they had everything going. I thought it was more of dribble-penetration that broke our defense.”

Only one game remains for St. John’s in non-conference play: a trip to the Carrier Dome for a date with former Big East foe Syracuse. Tariq Owens, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds plus three steals in 22 minutes, maintains confidence in his squad, but believes the consistency from practice to the game must carryover for success.

"I still believe as a team we can come out and play hard" Owens said. "As a team, we have to get back in the gym and build this thing up as a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We're going to take it one day at a time and work hard, cause that's all we can do."