No, St. John’s did not win at Carnesecca Arena against the Xavier Musketeers. The St. John’s Red Storm fell once again in Big East play, dropping another close, winnable game by the score of 73-68.
And yes, Bill Murray was there to remind us that Groundhog Day is coming up (his son is an assistant with Xavier).
St. John’s falls to 10-13, 0-11 in the Big East.
Once again, facing an opponent with a far better record, better depth and a lot of talent, St. John’s kept the game close. Early on, it was a hot start -- 14-8 at the first stoppage of play. Shamorie Ponds started the night warm, as did Marvin Clark II.
But the drought came early, with shots going a little short and the Johnnies unable to penetrate for better looks closer to the basket. Tariq Owens only played 10 minutes, saddled early with two fouls. Justin Simon, who starred in the first contest between the teams, was forced into tough long shots in his 19 minutes.
The cohesion for Chris Mullin’s team came and went, but Xavier could not take advantage, could not get to the rim, could not hit the shots, could not escape the Red Storm.
Yes, Xavier was up 37-32 at the half.
But the #6 ranked team in the nation was in the danger zone.
Coming out in the second half, down seven points, Shamorie Ponds kept attacking. And with the Xavier players struggling to make open shots (with a pair of airballs from the Musketeers side), the Red Storm started getting the transition game going - and got shots at the basket.
St. John’s tied the game four minutes into the second half and led by as many as four points. The length of St. John’s, arms extended to deflect both lazy and crisp passes, made many forays into the paint area for Xavier a turnover fest.
Still, despite not-much-scoring from Trevon Bluiett, Xavier tied the game with just under seven minutes when they focused their defense on Ponds, extended their pressure and started looking to score through Kerem Kanter.
St. John’s stayed close with the help of Musketeer turnovers and tied the game with a Marvin Clark three-pointer from the left corner with two minutes to go.
But the snake bitten nature of the team - or playing with seven players and foul trouble - took its toll.
It was the snake biting, actually.
The late execution had positives, but for a team trying to defeat the #6 team in the country, a well-oiled machine from Cincinnati, mistakes only leave fans and players thinking about the what ifs.
Down the stretch:
- Late in the game, with chances to regain the tie, Justin Simon missed a pair of free throws.
- Marvin Clark missed one of two.
- But Bashir Ahmed rebounded a Ponds miss for a putback! Positive!
- The long arms of Tariq Owens, persevering with four fouls, caused one more turnover after Marvin Clark hit a critical three to tie the game at 67. Nice!
- In the ensuing possession, St. John’s suffered a shot clock violation. Dang.
- On defense, the Johnnies forced a miss - yes!
- Only to have a foul called on Bashir Ahmed in the scramble for the rebound.
- After a made free throws from Ahmed, a goaltending call nullified an Owens block - and gave Kanter two more points.
And on, and on.
Shamorie Ponds crossed the career 1,000 point threshold, and looked like mostly the Shamorie we expected, scoring 31 points on 12/20 from the field.
Marvin Clark had 19 points.
Bashir Ahmed had 12 points and 10 total rebounds (three offensive), though his night seemed like a struggle. The Johnnies got a total of six points from the rest of the team (three each from Simon and Amar Alibegovic, who fouled out in 14 minutes of action). Kassoum Yakwe did not play.
The Red Storm shot 10/16 from the free throw line, but all six misses came in the second half, where they shot 5/11.
Xavier got a balanced attack in a sluggish offensive game: 14 from Trevon Blueitt despite his 1/9 from beyond the arc (3/7 inside), 13 each from Quentin Goodin and Kerem Kanter and 11 from J.P. Macura.
Next for St. John’s: a Madison Square Garden matchup against Duke at noon on Saturday.