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December 31, 2013

St. John's X'ed Out in BIG EAST Opener

A golden opportunity slipped through St. John's fingers like sand when the lack of a sustained defensive effort allowed its new BIG EAST rival Xavier to dominate the interior en route to a 70-60 victory on the road at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

At times, it looked as if it was too easy for the Musketeers (11-3, 1-0) which repeatedly got the ball around a faulty 3-2 zone and man-to-man press for buckets in the paint. Xavier was led by a hard-fought effort from junior forward Justin Martin, who recorded a team-high 15 points and six rebounds.

After falling behind a substantial Musketeer advantage, St. John's freshman guard Rysheed Jordan was able to narrow the deficit to four points, 52-48, as late as the 5:29 mark of the second half. However, that would be the closest margin the Red Storm (9-4, 0-1) would get for the rest of the game.

Jordan finished with a career-high 17 points on 5-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe in 26 minutes of floor time. He also grabbed six boards.

Utilizing the baseline, the high-post and strong transition offense, Xavier outscored the Johnnies by a whopping +22 (40-18) in the paint. The Musketeers' interior production was highlighted by the presence of 6-foot-10, 263-pound junior center Matt Stainbrook lurking in the paint.

Stainbrook netted nine points to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Xavier's big 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior forward Isaiah Philmore added to the interior work by netting 11 points and grabbing nine boards in the victory.

In front of a crowd of 10,250, in both squad's conference opener, the Musketeers staged a damaging 13-0 run to start off the second half. The surge gave Xavier an 11-point lead, 40-29, on a lay-in by Martin.

St. John's was never able to fully recover from the deficit, only coming as close as four points three times down the stretch. The first time was after the Johnnies outscored the Musketeers 15-8. A jumper from junior guard D'Angelo Harrison capped the momentum swing and made the score 48-44.

Harrison finished the contest with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-20 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.

Xavier's defense broke down St. John's offense, leading to the Storm finishing the matchup shooting 30.9 percent (21-of-68) from the field, including a helpful 7-of-14 from 3-point land.

After alternating between deficits and ties for the entire first half, Xavier earned its first advantage of the game at the 18:39 mark of the second half, 32-29, on a 3-pointer by Martin off a feed from sophomore guard Semaj Christon (10 points, eight assists and five rebounds).

The Musketeers finished shooting at a 44.6-percent clip (25-of-56), but that only included 4-of-16 from beyond the arc. Xavier out-rebounded St. John's by +7 (45-38).

St. John's led 29-27 at halftime.

The Johnnies opened the contest with strong defense that kept Xavier scoreless until the 11:55 mark of the first stanza. St. John's led 9-0 at the 12:16 mark -- five of the Red Storm's points were from Harrison.

As the Red Storm defense weakened, Xavier found chinks in the armor and exploited gaps in the defense. The Musketeers knotted the Red Storm twice and, then, for a third time with 2:30 left in the half -- this time at 25.

Harrison used a four-point play to break away from the nagging offense of Xavier, resulting in the Red Storm holding a 29-25 advantage with 1:20 left in the first half.

St. John's faces legendary BIG EAST rival Georgetown on the road on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 1 p.m. before returning home to face Villanova on Jan. 11 at Madison Square Garden.

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