The good news is that Anthony Mason Jr. made his long-awaited return from a preseason hamstring injury for St. John's this afternoon in Louisville. The bad news is that Mason had a limited impact with five points in the Red Storm's 75-68 loss that dropped them to 0-3 in Big East play.
After a strong first-half showing by the Johnnies, Louisville coach Rick Pitino replaced point guard Edgar Sosa with Preston Knowles to start the second half. Knowles triggered a second-half comeback, and when Sosa returned to the floor, his play picked up. Holding a 46-45 lead with a little more than 12 minutes left in the game, Louisville broke the game open with a 12-1 run that included two three-pointers by Sosa for a 58-46 lead.
D.J. Kennedy, who topped the Red Storm (10-5) with 20 points, led a late surge that helped make the final margin respectable, but the Cardinals never lost control of the game. With about 3:20 left, Mason hit a pullup jumper in the lane for his first basket in almost 14 months since his 2008-09 season was cut short by a foot injury that required surgery. Mason added a three-pointer and also found Kennedy underneath with a heady pass in the final minutes.
Also reaching double figures scoring for St. John's were Paris Horne (15), Dwight Hardy (12) and Sean Evans (10, six rebounds). Jerry Smith topped Louisville with 16, while Jared Swopshire had 15, Knowles totaled 12 and Sosa finished with nine.
Although he was not a huge factor in the box score in his return, Mason showed a mature presence in his 14 minutes on court, and it will help the Red Storm if he can work into the flow as quickly as possible. This is a team that isn't getting as much leadership as it needs from the point guard spot with Malik Boothe and freshman Malik Stith, both of whom were scoreless and combined for five assists and three turnovers. But Mason might be able to help fill the leadership void even though he's a wing man.
Mason's availability means coach Norm Roberts has to divide playing team by another body. He gave eight players double-figures minutes today and played a total of 12. With a tough game against Cincinnati coming on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, it might be time for Roberts to decide which group gives him the best chance to win and try cutting his rotation to eight or nine to develop some cohesion and consistency.