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LoVett excels in St. John’s sesason opener

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He couldn’t say it was quite worth the wait, but Marcus LoVett couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when he walked out of Carnesecca Arena last Friday.

The St. John’s redshirt freshman—sidelined last year after being ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA—made his Red Storm debut in the squad’s season-opening 100-53 victory over Bethune-Cookman, and the guard certainly left his mark on the lopsided game.

LoVett finished with 19 points off the bench and was an offensive spark for the Red Storm as the squad settled into its game plan and point-scoring stride.

“It was great, it felt so good to be out there and be finally able to play and play with my teammates,” LoVett said. “And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I start or if I don’t. I just know when I come in I’ve got to bring energy.”

The Red Storm opened slow—even trailing Bethune-Cookman in the early going of the opener—but St. John’s got the wakeup call it needed when LoVett settled into his jumpshot.

He was all but impossible to slow down when he found his rhythm, connecting from all over the court and going on his own mini-scoring run late in the half to put St. John’s up 47-31 at the break.

“He had a great game,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. “I thought he had total command when he was out there, good decisions and obviously his speed is very valuable. I think he really generated a lot of the unselfishness, probably had a lot to do with the 21 assists on 33 baskets.”

LoVett didn’t stop there, however, and the guard was even more dominant in the second half.

The Red Storm opened up the second on a 16-point run as the team efficiently executed its offense, moving the ball up the court with ease and splitting apart the Bethune-Cookman defense. LoVett highlighted the offensive explosion with a backdoor assist to Tariq Owens, who slammed it down for a crowd-jarring dunk.

“That’s what I’m here to do,” said LoVett, who added seven assists to his impressive stat line. “I’m the point guard so I’ve got to put people in the right positions to succeed. I really just tried to do that as much as I could.”

As St. John’s continued to pull away down the stretch, Mullin was able to experiment with lineups, switching in subs like hockey lines and testing out different players at a handful of different positions. It’s a luxury the second-year coach knows he won’t have throughout the season, but one he made sure to seize in the opener.

“We really haven’t had a starting lineup,” Mullin said. “I want these guys to get comfortable playing with each other all across the board. I’ve been doing it in practice a lot, so it’s just kind of a continuation of that.”

By the final whistle, the Red Storm won just about every statistical battle. St. John’s shot 62.3 percent, racked up 21 assists and forced 18 turnovers. For good measure, the squad also notched nine blocks and out-rebounded Bethune-Cookman 32 to 35.

It wasn’t a perfect game—Mullin wasn’t pleased with some late-game turnovers—but it was a much-needed first impression for year two of the Mullin era at St. John’s. And LoVett was simply happy to be back on the court.

“It was fun playing with my brothers out here and playing with this group of guys,” LoVett said. “It was so different from last year and these guys are just ready to work. Ready to play hard each and every day when we come in the gym. That’s what we need.”

Updated 6:56 pm, November 17, 2016
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