It was their 13th straight loss and they still don't have a victory in Big East play, but St. John's put together a strong performance at the Cintas Center, losing 90 to 83, against 6th ranked Xavier on Wednesday night.
One day after the Golden State Warriors practiced in Queens, the Johnnies would not go away and played with more confidence at the offensive end despite matching up versus one of the top teams in the Big East and a true Final Four contender. Felix Balamou, 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, had one of the best games of his career while Durand Johnson added 18 points and had a few sweet passes in the first half. Kassoum Yakwe had a superb game of his own, putting up 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
Christian Jones had seven points and Ron Mvouika and Malik Ellison combined for 17 points. Federico Mussini, who did not start likely because of the length in Xavier's backcourt, finished with seven points on 2-of-9 shooting.
While the Johnnies had some issues with the Musketeers 1-3-1 zone, they were able to get out in transition, finish through contact and play more efficiency offensively against man-to-man defense. The Red Storm shot 46 percent from all areas of the floor, hit six threes and turned the ball over 14 total times compared to 15 giveaways for Xavier. The Red Storm had crisp ball movement, knocked down their open looks and spaced the floor in their best performance of the season to date.
But it was Xavier's experience that turned the game around. Myles Davis, 18 total points, had a huge second half while Jalen Reynolds (nine points and four rebounds) and James Farr (11 points and seven rebounds) imposed their will in the paint. Trevon Bluiett also contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds while Edmond Sumner added 10 points.
In the opening half, Chris Mullin's team dealt with foul trouble up and down their roster (Jones, Mvouika, Johnson and Ellison) and Xavier shot 16 total free throws. The Johnnies hung around due to eight Musketeer turnovers and just 36 percent shooting from the home team. The Red Storm also took care of the ball offensively (only four giveaways in the first half), attacked rim consistently instead of settling for long range shots and were playing unselfish basketball.
The Musketeers out-rebounded the Red Storm by 10 in the opening half without Reynolds (foul trouble), but Yakwe's presence around the rim was critical to limiting a much bigger and more physical team in the painted area. And while Chris Mack's squad had the lead for the majority of the first stanza, the Johnnies hung around and trailed by only two points at the break after Johnson drilled the team's first three pointer of night as the buzzer expired.
The start of the second frame was well-played by both teams with the Red Storm taking their first lead since the opening minutes. Mvouika and Ellison hit consecutive threes, but the 6-0 St. John's run was countered by a 13-4 Xavier run as Reynolds finished a power slam over Balamou.
Every time it seemed like the Musketeers were ready to pull away, Mullin's unit responded with a big shot or an impressive defensive stand. The road team played with poise and showed how talented they can be with more experience in big games.
The Red Storm battled until the final seconds but the home team showed their balance down the stretch with five different players scoring in the last five minutes.
The Musketeers shot 46 percent from the field, 33 percent from downtown and had 19 more free throws than the Red Storm.
The Red Storm (7-16, 0-10) return home on Saturday as they try to play spoiler versus the Butler Bulldogs, who are coming off a win at home versus Georgetown and cannot avoid to record a "bad loss" on their NCAA Tournament resume.