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St. John’s falls to Creighton in Big East opener

St. John's bench reacts as their team is

St. John's bench reacts as their team is defeated by Creighton at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, New York on Thursday, Dec 31, 2015. NCAA Basketball between Creighton and St. John's. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

On the final day of 2015, St. John’s glimpsed its future and saw better days coming. The present, however, doesn’t feel good at all. And those better days might be a long way off.

The Red Storm made coach Chris Mullin’s return to Big East competition less than memorable as it fell to Creighton, 80-70, before 4,633 at Carnesecca Arena on Thursday in the conference opener for both teams.

Three St. John’s freshmen — Malik Ellison, Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe — produced inspiring performances, but the Red Storm’s only lead of the game was 2-0 and it trailed by double digits for the last 8:52.

It was the fourth straight loss for St. John’s (7-7), and the week ahead is a rough one. Its next two games are at No. 12 Providence and at home against No. 6 Xavier. “We’ve just got to get better,” Durand Johnson said.

Ellison scored 17 points, shot 5-for-7 and had six rebounds. Sima had 12 points and Yakwe — out of Our Savior New American in Centereach — had nine points, four rebounds and three blocked shots in 21 minutes off the bench.

“There’s always that balance of seeing the improvement guys are making and also handling losing. That’s a tough balance,” Mullin said. “All these things that are going on long-term are going to be very beneficial. It’s the way you have to do it. In the moment, it’s not enjoyable.”

St. John’s top scorer Federico Mussini remains in a shooting slump. He had only five points, shooting 1-for-8, and is 12-for-40 in the last three games. He also had three of 12 turnovers that led to 15 Creighton points.

Geoffrey Groselle scored 22 points and shot 9-for-10 for the Bluejays (10-4).

“There are certainly some pieces there,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said of the young Red Storm, but he added, “It’s that with inexperience comes inconsistency.”

Yakwe helped the Storm get out of an early 11-point hole and reach halftime down by only 33-29. Early in the second half, Johnson hit a three-pointer to make it 39-37, but Watson answered with a three on the other end.

Sima drove for a dunk to cut the margin back to three but got a technical for hanging on the rim. Isaiah Zierden made the free throw and hit a three-pointer on the ensuing possession.

“We had all the momentum,” Johnson said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Notes & quotes: Freshman Marcus LoVett Jr., the Storm’s only true point guard, will not fight the NCAA’s decision to rule him a partial qualifier ineligible to play this season, school officials confirmed.

St. John’s women win. Aliyyah Handford scored 23 points to jump into second place on the St. John’s all-time scoring list as the visiting Red Storm downed Providence, 80-61, to move to 11-2 overall and 2-0 in Big East play. Handford, who has 1,759 points in her career, leaped from fourth place to second place in the program’s all-time scoring. The 5-9 senior passed Cozette Ballentine (1,739; 1988-92) and Debbie Beckford (1,753, 1979-83).

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