Yankuba Sima's 17 points and 10 rebounds guided St. John's past upset-minded St. Francis Brooklyn in Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)
NEW YORK -- A 19-2 run to end the first half ultimately proved to be the winning stretch for St. John's, (5-3) who escaped a gritty effort from St. Francis Brooklyn, (3-5) outlasting the Terriers by the final of 63-56 in game one of the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
Freshman center Yankuba Sima, who battled a dislocated finger, fought his way to 17 points and 10 rebounds, while also blocking five shots. Durand Johnson led all scorers with 19 points, and effectively sealed the game for the Red Storm with a baseline jumper to beat the shot clock in the final minute.
"I saw the clock was going down," said Johnson of his clutch shot, "and I took that shot with a lot of confidence."
St. Francis Brooklyn, coached by former St. John's assistant Glenn Braica, dictated the terms of the game on the defensive end through most of the morning and afternoon, forcing St. John's off kilter for the first 14 minutes before nearly negating a 13-point Red Storm lead with a 15-4 run that pulled them within two. The Terriers would get no closer than that, as Johnson buried his jumper and sealed the outcome with two free throws as St. John's prevailed in Chris Mullin's head coaching debut at the Garden.
"I love this place," Mullin reflected after coming away with the victory. "I think I enjoyed playing here more than coaching, but it was another new experience. Tonight wasn't a pretty game, but we'll learn."
St. John's and St. Francis both return home for their next contests, with the Red Storm welcoming Niagara to Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday while the Terriers entertain NJIT on Thursday at the Pope Physical Education Center.