The season’s first meeting between the Xavier Musketeers and St. John’s Red Storm started out quite unusually. After the Johnnies won the tip, a defensive lapse left Justin Simon wide open for a dunk. Then, after he hung on the rim, he was promptly assessed a technical foul. Meanwhile, this was all within the first minute of play.
Xavier jumped out to a quick 9-5 early lead after Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura both hit three pointers by the first media timeout.
St. John’s went on the figurative comeback trail as it got within one basket by the under-12 media timeout.
At the 9:15 mark, the Red Storm took a 20-18 lead after a swift 8-0 run while hitting five consecutive field goals. St. John’s held a one point advantage by the under 8-minute timeout in this back-and-forth affair.
Xavier snatched back a six point lead after a three-point field goal by Kerem Kanter and a strong lay in finish at the rim by Quentin Goodin and another three by Kaiser Gates.
Xavier went into the half with a 42-34 lead over the Red Storm. Both teams shot nearly the same percentage from the floor in the first half: St. John’s shooting 42 percent from the field, while Xavier slightly edged them out shooting 45 percent.
The Musketeers out rebounded the Red Storm 22-12 in total rebounds. Give credit to Bluiett and Kanter, who both collected five rebounds apiece in the first half.
Xavier kept the ball rolling in the opening minutes of the second half with a 54-48 lead with 15:44 left to go in the game.
The Johnnies took advantage of Xavier miscues and by the 12:04 mark, tied the game up. On the ensuing position, they grabbed the lead after a Shamorie Ponds bank shot in the lane. However, Macura drilled his third three pointer of the game to swing the lead back in the Musketeers direction.
Macura brought the crowd back to life after a wide open two-handed slam and after a timeout called by Chris Mullin, St. John’s had a one point lead with 7:05 left in the game.
The Musketeers regained the lead after a volleyball tip in by Kanter and on the next possession, Gates rose up for a rim-bending two-handed jam. To add more fuel to the fire, Gates knocked down a triple on the possession afterwards. The Musketeers heated up at just the right time stampeding to a 13-0 run as the Red Storm faltered missing nine consecutive shots in a near six minute scoring drought.
By the 2:15 mark, Xavier was riding a much more comfortable 12 point lead, but the Red Storm were back in striking distance after a Ponds 3 pointer.
Xavier locked down the lead for the remaining two minutes of the game and it was game-set-match once Quentin Goodin converted two free throws with just seconds 18 seconds to go.
History was made as Xavier collected its fifth Big East win. Xavier head coach Chris Mack has now surpassed Pete Gillen as the all-time winningest coach in program history with 203 wins.
Bluiett: 23 points, 6 rebounds 3 assists
Kanter: 22 points, 13 rebounds
Macura: 16 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists
Gates: 11 points (3-3 3pt)
Simon: 28 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists
Ponds: 18 points, 4 assists
I took one main thing from this game. Despite their now 0-7 Big East record, the St. John’s Red Storm aren’t as bad as the number indicated in the loss column. They are feisty, athletic and can score points. They took a huge blow with the season-ending injury of Marcus LoVett, but Justin Simon really stepped up. This just goes to show how deep the Big East gets. Even the last team in the conference will put up a fight and to their credit, the Johnnies almost walked away with an upset victory.
As for Xavier, they got the job done. While it wasn’t the most flawless game, what game really is? The Musketeers have reaped massive rewards with the addition of grad transfer Kerem Kanter, who absolutely showed up today. He has proven in several contests that he can be a major factor for this team and he definitely has the skill set to contribute to an already very talented Xavier squad.
The Musketeers have momentum and confidence back on their side heading into a tough road environment on Saturday at The Rock against the formidable Seton Hall Pirates. If Xavier can pick up a win this weekend, it will be a pivotal point in the season, but for now Chris Mack has his record-breaking 203rd win and a team that can bring it game in and game out.