St. John’s misses out on upset against Xavier
by Bryan Fonseca
Feb 01, 2017 | 4554 views | 0 0 comments | 416 416 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PHOTOS: JEFFREY ARMSTRONG
PHOTOS: JEFFREY ARMSTRONG
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The St. John’s Red Storm were outlasted by the No. 24 Xavier Musketeers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, 82-77.

And outlasted is right, because both teams combined for 66 free throw attempts in a game that went for nearly two hours and thirty minutes.

The Johnnies fall to (10-13, 4-6 Big East) with the loss, and with eight games left to scrap for playoff position, the youthful Queens-based squad has shown good signs, even in defeat.

Head coach Chris Mullin would agree.

“There were a lot of times we could’ve got discouraged out there,” the Naismith Hall of Famer said after the game. “We just kept playing, hung around, and ultimately some of those rebounds came back to haunt us. Even with that I’m pretty optimistic, I thought it was a good effort.”

Those rebounds he was alluding to were an area that killed the Johnnies for yet another game, as Xavier out-rebounded St. John’s, 45-26.

In fact, Sunday’s encounter marks the sixth consecutive time the Red Storm were beat on the boards, and in that stretch they’ve gone (2-4).

Freshman star Shamorie Ponds also chimed in, saying he and the team haven’t done enough on the glass, which was evident by the final box, where only one SJU player, redshirt sophomore forward Tariq Owens (six rebounds), recorded more than three boards against the X-Men.

“No, not at all,” Ponds replied when asked if the Johnnies were getting enough production in rebounds from all five positions. “I believe we really need to get better because pretty much every game we get out-rebounded. Collectively, from one to five, we need to do a better job.”

As for the game itself, it was nearly another classic “SJU at MSG” upset of a ranked unit.

To start off, the Red Storm had a poor first half, knocking in 8-of-24 from the field (33.3 percent) and only 2-of-12 from deep (16.7 percent). In spite of their shooting woes, they limited Xavier to 32 points, and survived a late 9-2 run to enter halftime down 32-25.

Junior swingman Bashir Ahmed immediately connected with a deep ball seconds into the second half, hyping up the Johnnie faithful with nothing but net.

Later in the second half, the Musketeers had worked to pin down the Red Storm 59-44, the biggest lead yet for Xavier, which forced a St. John’s timeout from Mullin with under 10 minutes to go.

The Red Storm finished with 13 blocks, but none more impactful then the following two.

As the Red Storm slowly chipped into the lead with a little 9-4 run, Xavier had the ball with around seven minutes to go. The aforementioned Owens, who is 6-foot-11, rose up for two hellacious rejections on back-to-back possessions, prompting a thunderous reaction from the Red Storm-heavy audience.

On the following play, freshman guard Marcus LoVett recorded a steal on the in-bound, guided the ball, and proceeded to further energize the crowd with a coast-to-coast and-one lay-in – and he also hit the free throw.

As the game winded down, the two teams engaged in a free throw-shooting contest, keeping the 8,723 in attendance on their toes. But ultimately Xavier, which shot 23-of-34 from the line, did just enough to hold off St. John’s, who made 24-of-32 from the charity stripe, for the five-point win.

“The two things I’ve been harping on them the most are playing tough and being unselfish,” Mullin said. “Those are the two biggest things for us. We showed spurts of that. On most nights, we probably win the game, but usually when we do that, we make some threes”

Ponds and LoVett continue to add to their billing as one of the best freshman backcourts, and possibly overall backcourts, in the country. Ponds led the charge for a team-best 23 points, knocking down 11-of-13 from the line.

LoVett, who had big defensive plays down the stretch, finished with 11 points, five assists and two steals, but wasn’t thrilled with the result.

“I felt like we could’ve done better,” LoVett said after the game. “We just started out slow and that kind of put us in a hole and we had to dig ourselves out of it. I think if we were more aggressive, we would’ve started off better. That was a winnable game.”

The previously mentioned Ahmed added 11 points, nine of which came from deep as a result of a 3-of-6 downtown display.

Xavier was led by NBA prospect and junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who had game-highs in points and rebounds with 21 and 10, respectively.

Sophomore point guard Edmond Sumner added 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and seven assists before he went down with a potentially severe knee injury late in the second half. His back-up, freshman Quentin Goodin, scored 16 points off the bench, and junior guard J.P. Macura added 14 points.

The Johnnies are scheduled to return to the Garden against Marquette on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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