New York City was the Mecca of college basketball and St. John’s was the epitome of basketball in the city. Inconceivably, the St. John’s team that will face Niagara Wednesday night (Radio 1440, 7 p.m.) at Carnesecca Arena in Queens does not include one player who played high school basketball in the city.
That fact explains why Chris Mullin, one of the greatest basketball heroes in Red Storm history, was hired last spring – to restore St. John’s basketball to its former place in a city that prides itself on its heritage in the hoop sport.
Wednesday’s game will be the 100th between the Vincentian institutions, a rivalry that began in 1909. Last year’s meeting, won by St. John’s, 70-57, was the first however, after a seven-year break in the rivalry.
Closer to home, the University at Buffalo women’s team (6-2) will play St. Bonaventure (5-2) in the Reilly Center in Olean (Radio 1520, 7 p.m.)
There are a lot of basketball connections between Niagara and St. John’s. John “Taps” Gallagher, the “Godfather of Niagara basketball,” played on the 1926-27 St. John’s team and helped build the rivalry with his alma mater. St. John’s leads the series, 72-27, 21-2 against the Purple Eagles in Carnesecca Arena. However, Niagara is 6-4 when the teams played at the old and new Madison Square Garden. Mullin, the all-time scoring leader at St. John’s, played on four teams that went to the NCAA Tournament before embarking on a long NBA career. His senior season (1984-85), St. John’s made the Final Four and was ranked third in the nation but was upset by a Pete Lonergan-coached Niagara team, 62-59, at the Niagara Falls Convention Center. Niagara’s team incluced Joe Arlauckas, Gerry Henry and Kenmore’s Gary Bossert.
Niagara (3-6) is coming off a weekend split of its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference openers against Quinnipiac and Monmouth. St. John’s (5-3) has won all three of its games at Carnesecca and defeated St. Francis of Brooklyn Heights, 63-56 in the Garden on Sunday. Two Red Storm losses were to ranked teams, Vanderbilt and Indiana, the other to Fordham.
St. John’s scoring leader is 6-1 freshman guard Federico Mussini (14.4) from Italy. Another freshman starter is 6-11 center Yankuba Sima from Spain. Ron Mvouika (10.4 ppg), a native of Paris, is a 6-6 graduate student transfer from Missouri State and a three-point shooting threat. Another graduate student transfer is 6-6 Durand Johnson (11.5) from Pitt.
Niagara has three New York City athletes on its roster - Matt Scott (16.6), a sophomore from Brooklyn, forward Marvin Prochet from Brooklyn and reserve guard David Varoli from Queens.
Wednesday’s Big 4 women’s game, will match two teams that have gotten the season off to promising starts. St. Bonaventure (6-2) has won its last four, including two without leading scorer and rebounder Katie Healy (Lancaster) who was out with a foot injury. Healy was listed at day-to-day before she missed Monday’s victory over James Madison.
UB started the season with six wins before losing on the road at Hofstra and at home on Sunday to Duquesne. Both the Bonnies and the Bulls pride themselves on defense. Bona limited James Madison to 23.6 percent shooting on Monday.