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Chris Mullin wins coaching debut with St. John's

St. John's head coach Chris Mullin looks on

St. John's head coach Chris Mullin looks on as St. John's guard Federico Mussini (4) handles the ball against Wagner at Carnesecca Arena in Queens on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Yes, Chris Mullin admitted, he may be a Hall of Fame player, but as a novice coach at his alma mater, he definitely had a case of nerves before making his college coaching debut Friday night at Carnesecca Arena.

"Actually, before I left the house, I said to my wife, 'Can you believe I'm nervous to coach this game?' " Mullin recounted with a smile. "She's like, 'You dragged us into this. Now go do your thing. I don't want to hear it.' It was pretty cool being nervous, actually."

In truth, Mullin had plenty to be nervous about with a roster reduced to nine active players because of various NCAA sanctions that sidelined top recruits Marcus LoVett and Kassoum Yakwe and returning veteran Felix Balamou.

Wagner did its part to make Mullin uncomfortable as it took a five-point lead early in the first half and hung tough in the second half, when the teams exchanged the lead on five straight possessions. But freshman point guard Federico Mussini scored 18 points, including a critical three-pointer with 1:15 left in a one-possession game, as St. John's earned a 66-57 win.

Mussini's three-pointer began a game-ending 9-3 run that gave the Red Storm its biggest lead of the night. Durand Johnson went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final 40 seconds.

Johnson, a graduate transfer from Pitt, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Graduate transfer guard Ron Mvouika had nine points and freshman center Yankuba Sima totaled eight points and eight boards.

Corey Henson topped the Seahawks with 16 points and Dwaun Anderson had 11 points and 13 rebounds.

The Red Storm held Wagner to 31.7 percent shooting from the field and converted at a 45.0 percent rate from three-point range (9-for-20).

When the game ended, Mullin made his way into the corner of the stands, where the man whose name is on the court was seated. Of course, 90-year-old Lou Carnesecca, who coached Mullin to the Final Four in 1985, greeted his favorite son with a joke.

"The first thing he said was I looked all neat and sharp, but that's not going to last," Mullin said. "Pretty soon, my shirt will be hanging out and my tie will be undone."

The vision of Carnesecca looking rumpled on the sideline and gesturing energetically is dear to the hearts of all St. John's fans of a certain age. Mullin said he talked to his mentor during the game, and he choked up when he explained afterward what it meant to share this moment with Carnesecca.

"The guy has held such an influence on my life, so it's just a blessing to have him there," Mullin said. "Just like he did when I was 10 years old, he's still guiding me. It's been a blessing to have him in my life for 42 years."

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