St. John's had won nine of their last 10 games before their defeat at the hands of Villanova on Saturday. In order to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament, the Red Storm had to refocus, and refocus they tried.
But the Xavier Musketeers, who marched into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, would not be denied.
Behind a double-double performance by forward Jalen Reynolds and three other Musketeers joining The Motor City native in double figures, Xavier picked up an enormous road victory against the St. John's Red Storm to the tune of 65-53. The win is the Musketeers' 19th on the season and has sent the Johnnies to a meager 18-11 record.
Despite trailing for most of the second half, Steve Lavin's club brought their losing margin to within four points following a JaKarr Sampson jumper with 2:38 remaining in the game. While the students and fans who sported red inside The World's Most Famous Arena boastfully cheered their beloved Red Storm on, Xavier remained cool, calm and collected.
And nowhere was that made more evident then on the ensuing possession. Senior forward Isaiah Philmore dropped in a layup, following a pass from sophomore guard Semaj Christon, to push the Musketeer lead to six points. Subsequently, St. John's never got back to within closer than that six-point margin in the final two minutes of the contest.
The biggest storyline came from the Xavier bench. Jalen Reynolds, whose usage rate is merely at 16.3 percent this season, posted a double-double as he scored 17 points and took to the skies to collect 16 rebounds in 29 minutes of action. All three were season-highs for the freshman forward whose contributions should be remembered if Xavier is to safely enter the NCAA Tournament.
Musketeer scoring leader Semaj Christon had a good night at The Garden in his own right, scoring 15 points, handing out six assists, and grabbing seven rebounds including six on the defensive side of the glass. The aforementioned Isaiah Philmore and junior Matt Stainbrook each were in double figures as well, scoring 11 and 13 points respectively.
For St. John's, this was a tough loss to swallow. It was imperative for St. John's continue on the torrid pace they had set over a month ago. But with this loss, their chances of going dancing, save for yet another torrid run in the rest of the season and the BIG EAST Conference Tournament, are dwindling.
While the Red Storm had three scorers in double figures in JaKarr Sampson, Rysheed Jordan and Orlando Sanchez, they were plagued by their inefficiencies. This especially was felt from downtown, as the Johnnies shot just 12.5 percent from the three-point line on 16 attempts. That, combined with a mark of 0.8 points per possession on the night, is simply just not going to cut it.
Xavier now will host the potent Creighton Bluejays on Saturday as they loo for an upset victory inside the Cintas Center in Cincinnati. The Red Storm, meanwhile, look to pick up the pieces and salvage the season on Sunday when they host DePaul in their home finale.