St. John's third Big East game was no different than the first two as the Red Storm earned another L, their sixth straight overall.
But this one was much closer than expected as the Johnnies nearly stole a victory, 74-66, against an Edmond Sumner-less 10th ranked Xavier Musketeers team at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night.
Ron Mvouika, who has had some rough outings in the last month, was tremendous for the home team as he scored 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting while Federico Mussini played much better than his first two conference games, adding 19 points on five threes. Durand Johnson finished with 12 points but shot 6-for-17 from the field off the bench and Yankuba Sima, zero points, only played 11 minutes and sat the entire second half because of a hand injury.
The Red Storm couldn't buy a basket in the first eight minutes as they began the game shooting 3-of-18 from the field while Xavier was firing on all cylinders and finding easy buckets in transition. That put Mullin's team in an early 15-point hole, but a jolt of energy from Mvouika, a short stretch of hot shooting against the 1-3-1 zone, and sloppy play by the Musketeers on the offensive end helped the Red Storm creep back into the game in the first half.
Despite shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from long range, Xavier only led by seven at the break and were surprisingly out-rebounded by a team that had their leading rebounder on the floor (Sima) for just 11 minutes. The Red Storm only had one more turnover than Xavier and found some momentum to use heading into the second frame when Mvouika had an offensive rebound and finish with a minute remaining.
The defensive energy continued to be impressive in the second frame with the Red Storm forcing turnovers and contesting every Musketeer shot. But on the offensive end, the Johnnies were launching threes, missing free throws and failed to attack the rim enough.
Things changed quickly though, as Johnson had an emphatic slam in transition that woke up the crowd and helped St. John's inch within six with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Johnnies didn't go away and didn't run out of gas. Instead, Mussini got white hot from downtown, hitting four three's in a stretch of less than six minutes. The offense was not stagnant, the team worked to find the open looks and they fed off the crowd.
The Red Storm were down one with 2:05 remaining but Trevon Bluiett was fouled on an offensive rebound and Mussini picked up a critical technical foul (that changed the outlook of the game for good) for slamming the ball. The Musketeers hit their free throws down the stretch and forced a Mvouika turnover to end a game that was well played by an inexperienced roster.
Mullin's squad shot just 34 percent from the field, 24 percent from downtown and missed five free throws while the Musketeers shot 48 percent from all areas of the floor and had 29 free throws. St. John's had less turnovers than Xavier and played relativity well in the paint, getting out-rebounded by just three. Despite the stat differential, the Johnnies played well enough to win because of their grit, toughness and energy level.
The Muskeeters were led by Myles Davis (19 points) and Bluiett (18 points) while Jalen Reynolds had a double double (10 points and 13 rebounds). Xavier didn't have Sumner (head), as he didn't travel with the team to New York.
The Johnnies (7-9, 0-3) will now shift their attention to a match-up against the Marquette Golden Eagles (11-4, 1-2), a team that just knocked off Providence on the road, on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) at the Bradley Center.