NEW YORK — Chris Mullin did what all coaches do after a win, head right over to do a TV interview. When that was done the first-year coach headed for the corner of Carnesecca Arena and went straight to the man the building was named after.
"He told me I looked all sharp then said that won't last. The shirt will be out and the tie will be all over," Mullin said of the meeting of coach, Lou Carnesecca, and player from 30 years ago that included a kiss on the cheek. "I talked to him during the game. The guy is such an influence in my life. It's a blessing to have him there, just like he was when I was playing. He's still guiding me. It's a blessing to have him in my life for 42 years."
Just minutes after Mullin started his coaching career with a 66-57 win over Wagner on Friday night, he was able to admit he was "anxious and nervous" during the day.
"As I was leaving home I said to my wife, 'Can you believe I'm nervous for this game?' he said to Liz Mullin, another St. John's graduate. "She said 'You dragged us into this. I don't want to hear it.' It was pretty cool being nervous."
Freshman Federico Mussini had 18 points in the Red Storm's 10th straight win over the Seahawks. It was St. John's 12th consecutive season-opening win.
Mullin, the school's career scoring leader who led the Red Storm to their last Final Four appearance in 1985, didn't have win No. 1 win sealed until Mussini, a native of Italy, hit a 3-pointer with a second left on the shot clock to give St. John's a 60-54 lead with 1:16 to play. That matched the Red Storm's largest lead to that point.
Duran Johnson drove to the basket as the shot clock wound down and he found Mussini in the corner.
"I was driving. I saw him in the corner and I could have run back on defense," Johnson said. "That's how sure I was."
Mussini struggled in the team's two exhibition games against Division II teams — a 32-point loss to St. Thomas Aquinas and an 18-point win over Sonoma State — committing 11 of the Red Storm's 45 turnovers and shooting 4 for 11 from 3-point range as the team shot 7 for 36 (18.4 percent). He was 4 of 6 from 3-point range Friday night and the Red Storm were 9 for 20.
His duties as the main ball-handler will be tested throughout the season since the announcement that freshman guard Marcus LoVett was declared a partial qualifier by the NCAA this week.
"Every time I have a bad game I know I have to work harder," Mussini said. "So this week I focused on every practice like it was a game. I still have confidence in my shot and I'll keep shooting."
Corey Henson led the Seahawks with 16 points. Japhet Kadji added 14 and Dwaun Anderson had 11 points and 13 rebounds.
"It was a bang-bang game," Wagner coach Bashir Mason said. "We got some good looks. We just came up short."
HELLO COACH: Mullin received the loudest cheers when the Red Storm were introduced before the game. Mullin was one of three members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the building. Mitch Richmond, Mullin's teammate for years with the Golden State Warriors, who is a special assistant to Mullin, and Carnesecca.
St. John's junior guard Felix Balamou has been ruled ineligible over an unspecified NCAA rules violation.
The announcement came just hours before the Red Storm faced Wagner, and two days after LoVett got his news.
LoVett, a four-star recruit from Chicago, is allowed to practice with the team, as is Balamou while the school seeks reinstatement.
Balamou played in 54 games for the Red Storm, averaging 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds in 9.1 minutes.
Mullin is St. John's all-time leading scorer with 2,440 points. The current eligible roster has scored a total of 567 points and that includes 497 from fifth-year transfers Durand Johnson, who played at Pittsburgh, and Ron Mvouika, who played at Missouri State. That means St. John's returning players entered Friday night's game with a total of 70 points.
Wagner's last win over St. John's came on Feb. 2, 1956, a 92-90 victory. St. John's leads the overall series 17-2.
The Seahawks are 7-50 all-time against the Big East.
Wagner: Visits Seton Hall on Sunday.
St. John's: Hosts UMBC on Monday.