By Patrick McCormack
St. John’s hung in there, but that was the most it could muster in its first two Big East games.
The Johnnies fell 80-70 to Creighton in their conference opener on New Year’s Eve at Carnesecca Arena. They followed that up with a 83-65 road defeat to No. 12 Providence on Jan. 2. The Red Storm has lost five straight games since upsetting Syracuse on Dec. 13.
St. John’s trailed Providence by 18 points before cutting it to six midway through the second half. Friars star Kris Dunn, who had 26 points, scored eight straight points to help Providence close out the game. Yankuba Sima led St. John’s with 14 points and eight boards.
“I thought our team battled,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. “We got down and didn’t give up. We got back into the game and made some big shots. Overall, I liked our effort and competitiveness. All the credit to [Providence], they’re one of the top teams in the country, but I liked the way my guys battled.”
His club was also unable to pull itself out of a similar situation against Creighton.
“Overall I thought it was just OK, not good enough to win,” Mullin said. “I think our overall pace and energy has to increase. First half, we were hanging in there, but kind of got worn down.”
The Red Storm (7-8, 0-2) trailed 28-17 in the first half before an 8-0 run made it a three-point contest and just a 33-29 game at the break.
Early in the second half, the Blue Jays looked for some separation, but the Red Storm were able to keep pace. With Creighton up by five, freshman Sima threw down a dunk to make it 42-39 with 16:31 remaining in the game, but he received a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
Creighton capitalized on that, with Isaiah Zierden making the foul shot. Then, on the ensuing possession he hit a three-pointer to put the Blue Jays ahead 46-39.
Freshman Malik Ellison paced St. John’s in the loss with 17 points. Even though they lost, he saw a positive side to his team’s effort in their first league game.
“We fought hard as a team and it was a great effort, but we just couldn’t get the win,” he said.
The swing showed the Johnnies’ youth. “Part of the game is backing up good plays consecutively,” Mullin said. “A lot of that [comes down to] experience. Learning how to manage your emotions when you make a good play or a mistake. Hopefully, that’s something we’ll continue to get better at.”
St.John’s cut the lead to 60-54 before Creighton answered back with an 8-0 rally to take a 68-54 lead with 7:55 remaining in the game. That late rally was the Blue Jays’ knock-out punch.
“We had all the momentum, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said senior guard Durand Johnson, who had 14 points. “I felt like our energy and confidence was there, but it’s just one of those things where we have to keep fighting and building.”