On Friday night, St. John’s basketball closely mimicked Drew Carey’s opening line in Whose Line is it Anyway?
Where the show’s made up and the points don’t matter.
In this case, it’s where the points come and the starters don’t matter. A 100-53 trouncing of Bethune-Cookman kicked off the regular season campaign that proved the Johnnies have depth, depth, and more depth.
Though it doesn’t really matter to head coach Chris Mullin, his starting lineup on Friday was outscored 54-50 by his bench. Marcus LoVett, who started in St. John’s exhibition game on October 31, tore the Wildcats apart as substitute. LoVett scored 19 points on 5-of-7 from the floor, while handing out seven assists. His performance navigated a Johnnies offense that finished with 21 assists on 33 baskets.
“That’s what I’m here to do,” LoVett said. “I’m the point guard so I have to put people in the right positions to succeed. I tried to do that as best as I could.”
Exiting the game for the final time with just a handful of minutes remaining, LoVett and his head coach shared a handshake and a bright grin. The unselfish play by everyone in a red and white jersey gave St. John’s fans a unique cheering opportunity: to see a team that moved like lightning on offense without having to worry about one player to carry the load.
“After the game I told them the thing I liked best [were the assists],” Mullin said. “How do those baskets come? They come in all different shapes and sizes…when you play like that all of your teammates get involved, which is nice.”
Eleven of Mullin’s 12 players who saw minutes had at least a basket, including four that cashed in on double-digit nights. Guard Federico Mussini knocked down five three-pointers off the bench to finish with a game-high 20 points. The Italian sophomore represents another starter from the 2015-16 squad who doesn’t care about being labeled a starter or not, as he made clear following the team’s exhibition win over Baruch.
And in just 13 minutes, St. John’s big man Tariq Owens showed that no matter how many minutes each player is allotted, it’s up to him on how he uses them.
“I don’t think anybody on our team really thinks about that,” Owens said. “It’s all about what you do with your minutes…We’re a family, we’re a team.”
That’s easy for Owens to say. In just that handful of minutes, the 6-foot-11 red-shirt sophomore scored nine points and swatted a game-high five blocks.
So what did the starters do exactly? Sophomore guard Malik Ellison and freshman standout Shamorie Ponds combined for 19 points and two assists, hitting three three-pointers between them. The colossal Yankuba Sima, a seven-footer, joined the block party and added 11 points.
That’s not too shabby for a St. John’s team that only had two players average double digits. But to beat by being impossible to defend seems to be the path Mullin wants to head toward.
“I want these guys to get comfortable playing with each other all across the board,” he said. “On certain nights I want to be able to play five smalls [or] one big and four smalls. I’ve been doing it in practice a lot. [Tonight] was kind of a continuation of that.”
On a night in which Bethune-Cookman didn’t really have a chance, it was because the Red Storm hit every note in the harmony.
“Their talents are very different,” Mullin said. “Each guy has a strength and the guy next to him might have a different strength. Together they can make a pretty good unit.”