No. 24 Xavier Survives Late Scare By Red Storm
NEW YORK — Momentum from a feel-good win last week over Providence on road did not carry over to Sunday’s return to New York City for the Johnnies. An ugly start offensively doomed St. John’s as it failed to overcome early misses with a hot finish versus No. 24 Xavier, falling 82-77 in Madison Square Garden.
Despite shooting 33 percent after 20 minutes — with as many fields goals as turnovers (8) — St. John’s only trailed by seven points at the half. The Musketeers stretched their lead to as many as 15 points in the second half before the home team stormed back in the closing minutes to try and steal its second win of the season against Top 25 opponent.
A double-digit deficit was cut to seven after Tariq Owens emphatically blocked a pair on the same possession — the latter leading to a fast break opportunity for explosive guard Marcus LoVett, who took the ball to the basket and completed a lay up and free throw after drawing contact for a whistle with 6:30 left on the game clock.
Moments later, a 68-54 Xavier lead nearly vanished following an 8-0 run by St. John’s in 55 seconds to cut the deficit to four with 4:16 remaining. A pair of free throws brought the Red Storm within two points, but back-to-back buckets Trevon Bluiett (21 points [3 of 6 3-PT] and 10 rebounds) and Quentin Goodin (career-best 16 points) gave Xavier enough distance room to close the deal in the final three minutes.
“I look at [the game] in totality,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “I think both teams were sloppy in the first half. [Xavier] got a rhythm going early in the second half. We were struggling offensively, but our defense was pretty strong.
“Giving up 32 points [in the first half] to a team like [Xavier], I thought the effort was really good. You have to separate effort from execution. Defensively, we were really good and we weren’t making shots and sometimes that’s actually tougher to do. … They got away from us in the second half; they got up by 15 and we came back and cut it down to three.”
Shamorie Ponds finished the game with a game-high 23 points after his co-stars struggled. LoVett had five assists but had 11 points on 11 shots, meanwhile Bashir Ahmed battled foul trouble to only play 26 minutes, finishing with 11 points himself. With shots not falling early and the referees keeping a tight whistle (total foul count: 56 — Xavier 29, St. John’s 27), Ponds managed to to get to the charity stripe, where he shot 11 of 13.
“We were searching all night for some type of rhythm,” Mullin added. “We started getting downhill a little bit, getting to the paint and were in the bonus. Our activity picked up and they didn’t maintain their offensive flow. Some of it was [Xavier} missing shots, some of it was our defense; it was a combination of both.
“Overall, it was a decent effort. When you shoot 5-for-23 and give up 17 offensive rebounds, that’s probably the difference in the game.”