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Xavier defeats St. John’s for NCAA-best 37th straight .500+ conference season

The Musketeers avoided the Wednesday night Big East Tournament draw. St. John’s did not.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being without leading scorer Naji Marshall (ankle), the Xavier Musketeers won their fifth game of their last six Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati, defeating the St. John’s Red Storm, 81-68.

The Musketeers pulled to 9-9 in conference play and have now finished .500 or better in conference play 37 straight years, the longest active streak in the NCAA.

Marshall’s absence caused other players to step up. Paul Scruggs capped off his second collegiate regular season with a game-high 22 points, while Ryan Welage came out of nowhere for a 19-point outburst on senior day. Xavier’s other seniors Kyle Castlin and Zach Hankins each had 12 points in the victory.

St. John’s struggled with the same things they’ve struggled with most of the season. Depth and rebounding. Xavier had 22 bench points to St. John’s zero, and the Musketeers held a 38-24 advantage on the glass. Without overcoming these flaws, it’s tough to see St. John’s being able to do much in the postseason.

LJ Figueroa had a team-high 20 points, and avoided disaster when he appeared to injure his ankle in the second half, but returned to the game shortly later. Shamorie Ponds finished with 19 points and 10 assists, his second double-double of the season.

The Red Storm are now the seventh seed in the Big East and will play Wednesday night in the Big East Tournament, while Xavier will be the fourth or fifth seed on Thursday.