Sandro Mamukelashvili may not be an easy name to pronounce, but it’s one college basketball fans should get used to hearing. St. John’s learned this the hard way in its Big East opener.
The 6-11 senior forward proved to be one of the most versatile players in college basketball as he had 32 points, nine rebounds and three assists as Seton Hall defeated St. John’s, 77-68, in each team’s Big East opener on Friday at the Prudential Center.
"He’s very gifted," St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. "Very talented, got a nice touch outside, got a good feel for the game. He’s good, he played like a senior’s supposed to and a guy that has that kind of talent."
St. John’s (5-2, 0-1 Big East) struggled to limit Mamukelashvili’s playmaking ability. Even as the Red Storm turned multiple double-digit deficits into two-possession contests, Mamukelashvili seemed to always answer with a key basket.
"Their experience really came into play," Anderson said. "They went to their go-to guy. We had no answer for Sandro."
Seton Hall (4-3, 1-0 Big East) opened up a 21-11 lead midway through the first half. St. John’s answered with a 12-2 run over 5:22 to tie the score at 23, capped off by Julian Champagnie’s layup with 4:42 remaining in the half.
Champagnie, who finished with 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting, had six points over that run for the Red Storm.
"He was out there fighting," Anderson said. "He was trying to win. He was trying to lead our basketball team. He played within himself, so again, we just have to get some better efforts from some other guys as well."
After Seton Hall went on another run, St. John’s lessened its deficit to 35-30 entering halftime. But Seton Hall opened the second half on a 9-4 run and took a 46-34 lead three minutes out of the break.
"They did what good teams do," Anderson said. "They just took advantage of us coming out, and I thought we were a little flat."
St. John’s, which has had five-straight losing Big East seasons, shot just 19 percent from beyond the arc Friday and had two costly turnovers in the final minute to halt any potential late run. Seton Hall also finished with 28 free-throw attempts, compared to St. John’s 10 tries.
"The key is going to be consistency," Anderson said. "Like tonight, we shot 19 percent from the three-point line. And we had some open looks. You got to make shots on the road, so we just got to get back in the gym."
The COVID-19 influence on the Big East
St. John’s was scheduled to open its season Friday against UConn and Seton Hall was supposed to open against DePaul. But UConn and DePaul are two of the four programs in the Big East on a pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.
Butler’s had four games postponed/canceled due to an outbreak and Xavier postponed its next two games after a positive test within the program Friday.
The Red Storm travel to play at Georgetown Sunday at 7:30 p.m.