The embarrassing moments are starting to pile up for St. John’s.
First it finished eighth of eight in the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Next it lost at home to a Delaware State team that didn’t have a Division I win. A one-point upset loss to LIU Brooklyn at Barclays Center soon followed. And now this.
In its Madison Square Garden opener Sunday, the Red Storm got shredded by a second-tier Big Ten team. The Storm — the headliner in the annual Holiday Festival — fell to Penn State, 92-76, before 8,200 in a contest that wasn’t as close as the score.
This latest poor effort occurred despite the return of leading scorer Marcus LoVett, who had missed three games with an ankle injury.
St. John’s (5-7), which was victimized by a 35-5 run, has lost seven of 10 and will face Syracuse on Wednesday before beginning play in the loaded Big East.
The Storm actually got out of the gate well, then completely fell apart midway through the first half. After going up 24-17 against the Nittany Lions (7-5) on a three-pointer by Malik Ellison with 9:47 left, the Storm played as badly as could be imagined for the remainder of the half. St. John’s was 0-for-10 from the floor, 5-for-9 from the free-throw line and committed seven turnovers, and Penn State led 52-29 at the break.
In the second half, the Storm trailed by as much as 27 and never got closer than 16.
“You can really go into a deep, dark place if you let yourself,” coach Chris Mullin said. “But I think it’s real ly important to learn from it. I’ve seen enough good things out of this team that I am optimistic.”
Ellison finished with a career-high 22 points and Tariq Owens had 11 points and 11 rebounds, but the Storm’s top three scorers — LoVett, Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed — were a combined 8-for-35 with 14 turnovers.
Shep Garner had 21 points and Payton Banks had 17 as five Nittany Lions scored in double figures to snap a two-game losing streak.
Asked about the Storm’s first-half meltdown, Owens said, “As a unit, we didn’t bring it all as a team” and Ellison said, “We had a lack of energy at a certain point in the first half.”
Said Mullin, “We gave them the ultimate confidence and then they had everything going.”
Mullin said he was surprised by the effort he got out of his crew and added: “I’ll never make excuses, but part of this is the process [of] . . . learning a certain level of intensity. They’ve done it in glimpses. Maintaining it has been the problem.”
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers suggested that the return of LoVett changed the roles the Storm has been playing for more than two weeks and could have thrown people off kilter.
“I was telling them that when things don’t go their way — not only do you hate to lose and you’re embarrassed and all those emotions — you have to learn from this,” Mullin said. “People who have success have the experience of failing and they used it as a learning tool.”
Now to the question: How much losing will it take to finally learn how to win?
Pikiell, Rutgers win. Former Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell’s Rutgers team improved to 11-1 by defeating Fordham, 68-53, in the second game behind 19 points from Mike Williams.