Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mullin: "You have to bury me. That’s when I’ll give up.”

Chris Mullin. Photo by Jason Schott.

The St. John's Red Storm lost another tight game on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena, 68-63, to Creighton, to fall to 0-9 in Big East play, and their overall record dipped below .500 to 10-11.

St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of his mentality and his message to the fans, “My first statement was that the easiest thing to do was give up, but that’s not happening. That’s not what anyone came here for. We’re going to work through it. … I don’t know that give-up world. I’m not about that at all. …

"I keep coming, keep fighting, keep throwing blows, and keep showing up. That’s what I’m about. That’s what my players are about. I guess that’s a mindset or DNA, but no giving up ever. You have to put me in the ground. You have to bury me. That’s when I’ll give up.”

Mullin, in his third year at the helm, also saw them start Big East play at 0-9 in 2015-16. He said of the difference between that team and this season, “I just told them in the locker room, that second half was a great effort. We have to play 40 minutes though. We don’t have the ability to play 20, 30, or 35 minutes. We have to play 40 minutes. No one wants to win more and no one is more competitive than the guys in the locker room and myself. The record, we don’t like it at all, we hate it. I do think how we handle it is important. I told them that you can lose games, but you’re not a loser if you approach it the right way. You hold yourself accountable, you make changes, you keep coming out and fighting, you have personal pride, and that’s how things change. We all have a personal timeline of how we want our life to go, and how we want the season to go. When it doesn’t go our way or on our time schedule, the easy thing to do is blame, give up, point fingers, and that’s not happening. We’re not doing that. That’s not how I operate, and that’s not how my players operate. We will stay together as a group, work through this, hold our head high, compete, run through any obstacle, grab it by the neck, and do whatever we have to do to change this. That’s where our focus is.”
The biggest positive for St. John's is that they have played very competitively, as seven of these nine losses in Big East play have been by seven points or less.
Mullin said of keeping these games close, “Actually, we talked about that yesterday. We have six losses by 5.3 points, and tonight we lost by five. They are all different. They’re not grouped into one reason. Like tonight, if you look at the stat sheet, the biggest difference was made threes. That’s something we work on every day. I thought we got some good looks at the right time; we just didn’t knock them down. That’s part of the game. You make some, you miss some. We haven’t made them at the right time yet. Like I said, it’s not going to deter from our determination or our commitment.”
St. John's redshirt junior forward Tariq Owens said of losing by less than seven, “It is very frustrating. We feel like we are right there, we work hard but it’s just not enough. We have to figure out how we can get more and how we can do more. Each person has to take on that individual challenge to give the team more and to push through. We are right there, losing games by less than seven, but we can’t afford to put ourselves in holes early. We have a really small margin for error, so it takes a full 40 minutes. We can’t have lapses.”
These losses have largely taken the same formula in how the games have played out. St. John's hangs in for the first ten to fifteen minutes, then surrenders a big run toward the end of the  first half, then catches up with quick spurts in the second half, and ultimately falls short at the end.
This game with Creighton fit that mold perfectly, as a jumper from Tariq Owens put St. John's within two, at 15-13, with 7:51 left in the first half.
Creighton responded with a 9-2 run, and held St. John's scoreless until the 4:05 mark when Shamorie Ponds made a three. Over the next few minutes, Creighton then went on a 12-3 run capped by a Toby Hegner three-pointer that made it 36-21 with 1:55 left in the half.
Creighton led 36-25 at halftime, and they got nearly all of their production from Marcus Foster and Toby Hegner, who had 11 points each, and Khyri Thomas, Jr., who had 10 points. The three of them combined for 32 of their 36 first-half points.
The start of the second half was more of the same, as a Foster three made it 45-29 Creighton at the 16:15 mark, and St. John's called a timeout.
Whatever Mullin said worked, as the Johnnies came out of the timeout flying, as Tariq Owens got a big dunk, and Marvin Clark II and Brian Trimble, Jr. got back-to-back threes to give them an 8-0 run over 1:32 and bring them within eight, 45-37.
Creighton called a timeout to stop the momentum, and out of that, they got five quick points, as Hegner made a layup and Foster a three, to make it 50-37.
For the next ten minutes or so, Creighton maintained a seven-to-ten-point edge until Bashir Ahmed made a layup to cut it to 65-61 with 38.8 seoconds left.
There was no question they had to foul, and it took them 16 seconds to foul Ronnie Harrell, Jr., and he hit one of two at the line to make it 66-61.
St. John's raced to the other end, and Justin Simon made a layup to cut it to just three, at 66-63. They fouled Davion Mintz immediately, and he stepped up and made two free throws to make it 68-63 with 13 seconds left.
Creighton put on the press, and forced a turnover from Ahmed with just five seconds left to seal the win.
Foster led Creighton with 24 points on the night on 10-19 shooting, and 4-9 from behind the arc, with eight rebounds and two assists. Thomas had 19 points on 5-8 overall, 3-4 on threes, 6-7 on free throws, seven rebounds, and three assists. Hegner had 16 points on 6-12 shooting and 4-9 on threes, with three rebounds.
St. John's was led by Justin Simon, who had 17 points on 7-14 shooting, including a three, with nine rebounds, and seven assists. Tariq Owens had 14 points on 5-9 shooting, with five rebounds and two blocks. Bashir Ahmed had 11 points on 3-7 from the field, including a three.
Mullin said of maintaining consistency throughout the entire game, “I think it varies. Tonight, we played a better second half than a first half. We’ve sat here before and played better first halves, so it varies. Part of that is getting past that 30-minute mark to play 35 minutes and then play 40 minutes. I’m asking a lot of these guys to play a lot of minutes, so fatigue goes in different ways. Fatigue can be physical, or it can be mental. I understand that, but the thing is we have to do that at this point in time.”
Owens said of the season, “We came into this year strong. We lost one of our best point guards [Marcus LoVett] that kind of hindered us a little bit, but at the end of the day, we have faith in the guys that we have. We have proven we can keep up and we can hang in the game, so it’s just a simple fact that we are shorthanded. With guys having to play more minutes, you still have to lock in mentally, that’s what it comes down to and that’s what we have to do. “
It doesn't get any easier for St. John's, as they hit the road Saturday to take on Butler, whose Hinkle Fieldhouse is a tough place to play; then they host Xavier at Carnesecca Arena on January 30 and Duke at Madison Square Garden on February 3.

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