There's only one positive Chris Mullin can take from his ignominious debut as head coach of his alma mater.
It didn't count in the standings.
Division II St. Thomas Aquinas walloped tradition-rich St. John's 90-58 on Wednesday night in what is easily the most eye-popping exhibition result of the new season. The Johnnies trailed by double figures less than six minutes into the game, by 16 at halftime and by 20 or more for most of the second half.
It's no mystery St. John's is headed for a rebuilding year after losing virtually every key player from a team that reached the NCAA tournament last March, but a 32-point loss to a little-known Division II program only reinforces how much of a struggle this season could be.
St. Thomas Aquinas is hardly a Division II powerhouse after all. In the 15 years since they joined Division II, the Spartans have never made the Division II NCAA tournament and have never won an outright league title. They went 21-11 last season and reached the title game of their conference tournament, but they also lost all three games they played against Division I competition by an average of 34 points apiece.
You'd have thought St. Thomas Aquinas was Kentucky or North Carolina on Wednesday from the beatdown the Spartans handed St. John's.
With freshman point guard Marcus LoVett on crutches on the sideline, the error-prone Johnnies could not handle St. Thomas Aquinas' trademark full-court pressure. They committed 27 turnovers and often seemed hesitant to attack the few times they did manage to beat the press.
Federico Mussini led St. John's with 16 points and Christian Jones added 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, but those were the only bright spots. Pittsburgh transfer Durand Johnson, who is expected to be one of the Johnnies' top players this season, finished with four points on 0-for-7 shooting.
Exhibition losses against lower-division teams typically receive a lot of attention, but history suggests they're just as often a fluke as a bad omen.
In 2009-10, a Syracuse team that lost 82-79 to LeMoyne won 24 of its first 25 games en route to a Big East title. In 2012-13, Miami fell 69-67 to St. Leo yet went on to enjoy its best season in school history, finishing 29-7, winning the ACC tournament and reaching the Sweet 16.
At the same time, Memphis' poor guard play in a humbling loss to Division II Christian Brothers last year was definitely a harbinger of things to come. The Tigers finished 18-14 and missed the postseason altogether mostly because they lacked a competent backcourt.
Unfortunately for St. John's, this outcome feels like a sign that this season will be rough.
It's one thing to lose to a high-quality Division II program by a basket or two. It's another to fall by 32 points.
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