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St. John’s falls to NJIT for second straight home loss

From left, St. John's center Yankuba Sima (35),

From left, St. John's center Yankuba Sima (35), forward Amar Alibegovic (1) and forward Christian Jones (2) react against N.J.I.T at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, New York on Sunday, Dec 20, 2015. Credit: Steven Ryan

When St. John’s upset Syracuse a week ago, it looked as if the Red Storm might be ready to exceed outsiders’ low expectations for this rebuilding season. But after Sunday’s 83-74 loss to NJIT at Carnesecca Arena, those earlier expectations appear to be accurate.

St. John’s has dropped consecutive home games to teams from one-bid conferences. This defeat came two days after a 22-point loss to Incarnate Word. The Red Storm (7-5) next faces unbeaten South Carolina before Big East play begins Dec. 31.

“We have to use this to keep playing,” forward Ron Mvouika said. “I mean, the Big East is about to start in a couple days and you’ve got to play at a high level every night because you know the teams that are in it. We’ve just got to get prepared for that, come ready and play with force from the beginning. Because in the Big East, that’s going to show. If we don’t show up, at the end it’s going to be bad.”

Poor shooting by St. John’s set the table for this one. By finally keeping its turnovers down (10), the Red Storm managed to take 22 more shots than NJIT (7-5) but had one fewer basket. The 34.3 percent shooting — including 8-for-32 on three-pointers — was overshadowed only by the 52.9 percent St. John’s shot from the free-throw line.

“Those are easy points,” Mvouika said of the free throws. “We’ve got to do a better job right there, especially at home.’’

Said coach Chris Mullin, “We took care of the ball. We took 22 more shots. We got to the free-throw line. We just didn’t make shots. Overall, I’ll live with that . . . We will make shots. I’m not worried about that.”

As for the Big East slate, he said that because the team leans heavily on freshmen, he’ll focus only on incremental progress and not on an overall prognosis based on these last two performances.

“I can’t say I am concerned about that, but I also can’t forecast it, either,” Mullin said.

St. John’s trailed by four at the half and took its biggest lead at 50-47 on Federico Mussini’s three-pointer with 14:39 to play. NJIT answered with a 15-0 run that included nine of Damon Lynn’s 32 points.

Surgery for Williams? A source told Newsday that 6-8 junior college transfer Darien Williams likely will have shoulder surgery before classes reconvene in January, ending his season.

New York Sports