Chris Mullin has been through this before. St. John’s also has gone through this, all too recently.
It was only two years ago, when Mullin inherited a roster without even the crumbs from an NCAA Tournament team, and went winless in his first 13 Big East games as head coach.
Now, despite significantly more talent, and far more reason for optimism following non-conference play, the Red Storm (10-9, 0-7) enter Saturday afternoon’s game at Georgetown with seven straight losses, and still are looking for their first Big East win.
It isn’t how Year 3 was supposed to go. Sometimes, it hardly even feels like Year 3.
“This is like Year 35 for me, with the year we’ve had,” Mullin joked.
The legend laughed, sounding as confident as he did before Christmas.
One month removed from the team’s most recent victory, Mullin meets his former rival, Patrick Ewing, again, hoping to avenge the Red Storm’s 69-66 loss at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9. The Hoyas (12-6, 2-5) have won 12 straight home games against St. John’s, but are bruised almost as badly, having lost all three conference games at Capital One Arena, including Wednesday’s 32-point beatdown by No. 1 Villanova, which marked Georgetown’s worst-ever Big East loss.
Mullin remains encouraged that the Red Storm have lost by seven points or fewer in five of their past seven games. Just this week, St. John’s was in position in the final minutes to pull upsets of Villanova and No. 11 Xavier, leading Mullin to maintain that the Red Storm shouldn’t be written off, yet.
“We’re right there, but there’s some things we need to change in crucial times of the game to make the plays to win,” Mullin said. “The good thing is we’re right there. We have time to get back in this thing. We start getting some splits with teams that beat us, pay them back and we get back on track. That starts [now].
“There haven’t really been big major things we have to adjust. It’s very fundamental things. … We look at the film, and there’s not some major overhaul that has to be made.”
St. John’s can start by stealing one on the road, leaving Washington with a win, like Mullin did during his final three seasons as a player against Georgetown. But unlike those epic encounters, Mullin hasn’t found battling Ewing again any more meaningful than any other game this season.
“I know the stories were there, but not really,” Mullin said of the recent Garden matchup. “You get caught up in preparation and once the game starts, that’s all we’re thinking about.”