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St. John’s looks to pull off upset vs. Marquette in Big East tourney

St. John's head coach Chris Mullin argues

St. John's head coach Chris Mullin argues a call against Providence at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York on Saturday, Mar 5, 2016. Credit: Steven Ryan

Think about this: The three returning players on St. John’s roster have a combined total of 13 minutes playing time in the past three Big East Tournaments. The four freshmen playing in their first Big East Tournament game against Marquette Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden will far exceed that total in one night.

So as tough as first-year coach Chris Mullin’s maiden voyage has been while enduring the hardships of a 8-23 season, the experience should pay off as he builds a core group to serve as the foundation of his program. Although the Red Storm has won just one of its past 21 games, its two losses to Marquette (19-12) came by a total of 11 points in competitive games.

Speaking recently of the progress shown by freshmen Kassoum Yakwe, Yankuba Sima, Federico Mussini and Malik Ellison, Mullin said, “The four freshmen will be motivated [next season]. The payback list and bulletin board material, we’ve got enough for a lifetime.

“We took it to an extreme, but losing and tough times get your attention more. From that standpoint, we should have undivided attention for the next 10 years.”

If there’s a silver lining for St. John’s, it has been the performance of Yakwe, who made the Big East all-freshman team, and Sima, who missed both previous Marquette games with an injury. They combined for 5.1 blocks per game to help St. John’s rank eighth nationally in that category (5.7). Their play will be critical against Marquette’s big men Henry Ellenson, who made all-Big East first team, and Luke Fischer.

“On paper, it’s a good matchup,” Mullin said. “We’ve been playing Sima and Kassoum together now that they’re both healthy at the same time. Another big is important to have against a big frontline like Marquette’s.”

Yakwe put up solid numbers, averaging 7.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. Sima’s numbers were comparable (7.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks), but he missed seven conference games while injured.

“All our freshmen had pretty productive seasons, but Kassoum really came on,” Mullin said. “He started the season on the bench, and as soon as he got eligible, he improved each game.”

New York Sports