By Joseph Staszewski
St. John’s celebrated a different kind of Veterans Day five days after the real thing.
The elder statesmen on a team filled with youth and inexperience combined for 25 points in the second half to lead the St. John’s men’s basketball team to a 75-53 victory over UMBC at Carnesecca Arena Monday.
Graduate student Durand Johnson scored all 15 of his points after the break. Classmate Ron Mvouika netted 10 of 16 in the second stanza, going a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the game.
“D.J. and Ron were big-time tonight,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “They played like the leaders we need them to be.”
St. John’s was leading just 33-31 early in the second half when Johnson, a Pittsburgh transfer, came alive. He scored eight straight points, including three consecutive jumpers, to put the Red Storm up 41-34 with 13:42 to go in the game. The Missouri State-transfer Mvouika told Johnson at halftime to forget the first 20 minutes and play his game.
“He said everything that I needed to hear and my confidence went sky high and I just let the game come to me,” Johnson said. “I was able to makes shots off good passes.”
St. John’s used an 11-5 spurt powered by Mvouika and Federico Mussini (18 points, six assists) to push its lead to 60-45 with 4:30 to play. Yankuba Sima added eight points and nine rebounds and Christian Jones had seven points and seven boards for St. John’s. Joe Sherburne and Rodney Elliot tallied 16 points apiece for UMBC (0-2).
The Johnnies were off to a 2-0 start to the Chris Mullin Era as they headed into Rutgers visit to Carnesecca Arena Thursday. His club has shown the defensive intensity he preached before the year started, blocking 11 shots and sharing the ball like he has asked. St. John’s posted 15 assists on 27 field goals.
“We are starting to get a little bit of rhythm,” Mullin said. “In the meantime, our team defense has been really solid.”
His club’s biggest concern continues to be turnovers. St. John’s coughed up the ball 18 times, leading to 13 UMBC points. The Golden Retrievers took 15 more shots than the Johnnies, a product of too many empty possessions.
“We have to clean that up, but the assists are going up,” Mullin said. “We have to get our turnovers down and we’ve got to get these guys off the offensive rebounds.
St. John’s, which led 29-17 with 3:04 to play in the first half, missed a chance to pull away, thanks to two 3:00 scoring droughts. The 3-pointers that fell earlier weren’t going down. UMBC was within seven before a Mussini run before the halftime buzzer put the Red Storm up 31-22 going into the locker room.
The club’s veterans eventually turned that around.
“We are the older guys. The younger guys need us,” Mvouika said. “My job is to lead. Our job is to lead.”