The weight of memory, of a losing streak, is hard to toss off. And with a top-10 team coming in (and Duke on the horizon), there will be no easy days for St. John’s, working to get out of the doldrums.
In truth, there are many opportunities to crack as badly as the Johnnies did on Saturday in Indianapolis, a thrashing by Butler (early and often) that saw the team try to jump-shot their way out of their slide.
Shamorie Ponds played hurt, Kassoum Yakwe skipped the game hurt, and the rest of the players, save maybe one, took a collection of bad shots to pass the time.
Will Tuesday be different in a rematch against Xavier? Will the fans come out to Queens and lend some support?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (10-12 I 0-10 Big East) versus #6 Xavier Musketeers (19-3 I 7-2 Big East)
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
When: Tuesday, January 29th, 8:30 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network | online
Audio: 570 AM WMCA; TuneIn Radio
Last Meeting at home: St. John’s fell to Xavier 82-77 in Madison Square Garden last season; the Red Storm have lost five straight games to the Cincinnati school, including the 88-82 loss earlier this season.
Last five games: L W W W W
Since we last saw Xavier, Chris Mack’s Musketeers have won at Seton Hall and at home against Marquette continuing their rise up the national rankings.
In their four game win streak, they have held three teams to below 1 point per possession - think of it as the efficiency Mendoza line - dismantling the attacks of Creighton and Marquette along the way. The only team that cracked that line was St. John’s.
St. John’s played solidly (with Justin Simon hitting a career high) and shot well for much of that game, only to be undone by a seven-minute scoreless streak.
But Xavier was also able to find spaces in the corners for three-pointers in the half court. St. John’s defense was a mixture of overscrambling and the occasional misstep/ defensive indifference that has cropped up from time to time.
St. John’s could hang with Xavier, despite giving up 54% shooting from outside the arc... but will the Johnnies be able to shoot 46% from beyond the arc in return again?
Hard to imagine, given recent results.
For their part, Xavier’s solid rotation is formidable. The front court, with Kerem Kanter (22 points in the first meeting) and Sean O’Mara providing backup, can own both ends on the rebounding glass.
Their scorers, Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura on the wings, are complemented by point guards Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs, who both have powerful attacking abilities, but can be sloppy with the ball.
Naji Marshall and Kaiser Gates add size, defensive toughness and three-point shooting.
Keys to the Game
Hit threes again. The Xavier defense leaves spaces for three-pointers to be shot. St. John’s has to take these opportunities, while not being hasty. The pull-up three with 20 seconds on the clock is a bad idea. The three-pointer after moving the ball in and out of the post and side to side might be a better idea.
Better defense. The Johnnies have been close in many games, thanks to their defense. The defense has to step up another level, forcing turnovers (and taking advantage of them) to make the game messy, to make Xavier hit shots without the help of assists, to limit three-point shot attempts.
More in the post. St. John’s is the worst in the league at getting to the free throw line - meaning that either the jump shots fall or the Johnnies don’t score.
Tariq Owens won’t be a back-down scorer, but the Johnnies have had some good plays with he and Shamorie Ponds on the pick and roll. However they do it, the Red Storm need to get some touches in the paint, some scores at the rim - something a little more easy that, perhaps, comes with the benefit of foul shots.
St. John’s pulls out an ugly win over an overconfident Xavier team! (We think big over here!) 76-73