Delaware State University delivered a stunner.
The Hornets handed a crushing 79-72 blow to the St. John’s Red Storm on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena. The Johnnies dropped their fifth consecutive game, allowing the Hornets to shoot a mammoth 58 percent from the floor.
“This really hurts,” sophomore guard Federico Mussini said. “We wanted to make sure we came out tough. But we didn’t.”
Delaware State did not just win its first game against a Division I opponent this season, but won snapped a 20-game losing streak against non-conference Division I opponents. For any team ranked as low as Delaware State is in the Pomeroy College Basketball Rankings (DSU ranked 341 out of 351 programs), the Hornets needed to scrap together a perfect game. And they did.
All shots, tough and easy, fell for the Hornets who knocked down 32-of-55 from the floor, 53 percent from beyond the arc, and 78 percent from the free throw line. The offense stifled St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin’s defense, but Delaware State’s 2-3 zone defense swallowed the Johnnies whole.
“The guys did well,” Delaware State Head Coach Keith Walker said. “I’m proud of the way they played together. We finally closed a game out.”
The Hornets defeated DIII Summit in their season-opening game but dropped five straight. In losses to Texas Southern, UMBC, Louisiana-Lafayette, Rice, and Montana State, the Hornets lost by an average of 16.6 points. Tuesday night, everything worked.
“I think it bodes well for what teams in our league can do,” Walker said. “We have some very good basketball teams in our league.”
St. John’s, who scheduled the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Delaware State following its tough Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, felt like it might have overlooked such a seemingly lowly opponent.
“I feel like that was our problem too,” Mussini said. “When we play big teams everybody is hyped. Everybody is ready. So we’ve got to respect everybody.”
It’s no secret that Delaware State doesn’t hold a candle to Minnesota, Michigan State, VCU, or even Old Dominion, who were the four teams St. John’s recently faced. However, the 2015-16 year still haunts the coaching staff and players who know that they don’t yet have the right to overlook opponents, having won just eight games last season.
“We always talk about respecting everyone,” Mullin said. “You don’t fear everyone but you respect everyone…But again, they had to go out there and make those shots. I don’t think you can deny that. You still have to make them. I don’t care who you are. [If you’re] open, not open you’ve still got to make them. And they did.”
The Hornets shot 64 percent in the first half and the Red Storm had no answer. Even with big men Tariq Owens, Yankuba Sima, and Kassoum Yakwe, St. John’s fell on the wrong side of statistics like points in the paint. The three tall trees aforementioned only took seven of the team’s 68 shots. Against Delaware State’s zone, one that dares the opponent to fire three-pointers, the Red Storm chucked 37 three-pointers. In total, 54 percent of the Red Storm’s shots came from deep, playing right into the Hornets’ hands.
After all, everything had to go right for Delaware State. The Hornets withstood Bashir Ahmed, who’s game stood out among the rest of the Johnnies. Ahmed scored 19 points, on 7-of-12 from the field, and snagged seven rebounds. The issue came in the second half when Ahmed grabbed his fourth foul. The versatile scorer for St. John’s had to sit, missing valuable time to help complete a comeback.
Having lost five consecutive games, the Red Storm has until Friday at Tulane to figure out what’s gone wrong. But the answer might be more simplicity than complexity.
“We’re thinking too much,” Ahmed said. “They guys are thinking too much. We’ve just got to let the game come to us and play the right way.”