It was the same script, but a different stage for St. John’s as another solid effort finished with a deflating loss for the Johnnies at Xavier. The Red Storm fell, 88-82 to the Xavier Musketeers.
Now 10-9 with an 0-7 record in Big East play, the Red Storm were undone by a seven-minute scoreless stretch in the second half where the Musketeers scored 15 points (to nothing for the visiting Johnnies).
Xavier is a tough team, but the shots missed, while tough, included some of the crafty layups Ponds shoots almost every game. There were other issues, to be sure - the second half saw the Musketeers dominate their own paint, and the threes rained in from the Cincinnati riverfront.
But Chris Mullin’s team played well enough to win for about 32 minutes, led by a career-high 28-point scoring effort from Justin Simon and a better effort sharing the ball than in some previous contests.
The Red Storm started off with a backdoor cut and a dunk by Justin Simon... that also led to the first point from the Musketeers, because Simon was called for a technical foul for lingering on the rim. Simon rebounded from that moment, leading the team through the first half and piercing a sometimes-indifferent Musketeer defense.
For once, St. John’s was able to hit some three-pointers, helped by efforts from Bryan Trimble, Jr. But on the other side, Xavier took 17 threes and made nine of those attempts, pushing the lead to 42-34. The Musketeers took advantage of the Johnnies’ defensive scheme, which moved to double team in the paint and often left a player open on the wing.
To start the second half, the Red Storm could not miss. The team started with the threat of Shamorie Ponds’ driving craftiness, but shared the ball - going 11/11 from the floor in the first nine minutes of the second half, with two made free throws and two turnovers sprinkled in.
On the other side, though St. John’s was getting some stops, the corner three-point attempt was still open for Xavier. And Kerem Kanter had started heating up, occupying space in the paint and drawing the balance of the Red Storm defense to him.
After Simon found Owens for a layup, the cold of the Ohio night crept in, ghostly, and froze those hot shooting hands.
Until there is evidence otherwise, we are going to use that as an excuse for a seven minute scoreless stretch where Shamorie Ponds could not get a layup or jump shot to go in, where Justin Simon went nearly unheard in the box score before a late trip to the free throw line with just under two minutes left - and a stretch where Xavier and the home fans held all the momentum.
The Red Storm were down by as much as 12 in the second half, but added enough points to leave this game behind in Cincinnati as a six-point deficit at the end.
Xavier was led by 23 from Trevon Bluiett (on 8/15 shooting) and 22 from Kerem Kanter (on 8/10 from the field) who added 13 total rebounds (4 offensive); J.P. Macura added 16 and Kaiser gates chipped in 11.
St. John’s was led by the career-high 28 from Justin Simon (12/16 from the floor), 18 from Shamorie Ponds (6/20 from floor), and 15 from Marvin Clark II (6/10). Simon also had nine defensive rebounds and six assists - almost messed around and had a triple-double. Simon and Clark each had three steals.
Three St. John’s players played all 20 minutes in the second half (Ponds, Simon and Tariq Owens); Bryan Trimble and Marvin Clark played 17 each and Bashir Ahmed played for six minutes after struggling in the first half (and on defense to start the second half).
Next for the Johnnies is a matchup against Georgetown in Washington DC on Saturday.