Friday, March 1, 2019

St. John's Stumbles In Home Finale, Falls To Xavier

St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin had plenty to say to the referees. Photo by Jason Schott.

St. John's had one of their toughest games of the season, as they fell to Xavier, 84-73, in the home finale at Carnesecca Arena on Thursday night, just their second loss in that building all season.

St. John's falls to 8-8 in Big East play, now tied with Butler for third place in the conference. They are 20-9 overall, and this was one they needed to burnish their NCAA Tournament resume.

This was Xavier's second win in the New York metropolitan area in the last week, as they also won at Seton Hall, 70-69, on Wednesday, February 20.

Xavier was led by Naji Marshall, who had 31 points (15 in the first half, 16 in the second) on 8-19 shooting, including 5-12 from behind the arc, and 10-12 from the free-throw line, with 6 rebounds and an assist.

Quentin Goodin had 13 points on 4-8 from the field, including 2-5 on three-pointers, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Zach Hankins had 11 points on 4-6 shooting, with 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Tyrique Jones also had 11 points (including 8 in the second half) on 4-5 from the field, with most from close range, and 10 rebound for a double-double, along with 4 assists.

St. John's was led by LJ Figueroa, who had 23 points on 10-16 from the field (1-5 on threes), with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Shamorie Ponds was kept in check, as he had 13 points on 5-16 from the field (2-6 on threes), with 6 assists and no rebounds. Marvin Clark II had 11 points (4-11 FG, 3-8 threes), with 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

Carnesecca Arena was packed for this one, with 5,602 fans, and Clark said of the atmosphere in the building, “The crowd was great. The energy was great. We used that energy to rally.”

Shamorie Ponds brings the ball past halfcourt. Photo by Jason Schott.

Xavier came out firing, as they raced out to a 13-5 lead capped by a Goodin three-pointer four minutes in. St. John's raced back with an 8-0 run to tie it at 13 on a Clark three-pointer at the 13:52 mark. Xavier responded with a 12-2 run capped by a Goodin three at 9:26 that made it 25-15, and they took a 38-30 lead into the half.

Xavier opened up a 10-point lead, 42-32, early in the second half on a Hankins three-point play. St. John's came right back, as Josh Roberts got a steal and found Ponds for a layup, and then Justin Simon got a steal and found Roberts for a layup to make it 42-36 at the 17:42 mark.

St. John's pulled within three, at 58-55, at the 10:00 mark on a three-point play from Shamorie Ponds, but Xavier came right back with a 9-2 run capped by a layup from Jones that made it 67-57 with 7:10 left.

By this point, the fouls really started to pile up for St. John's, some of them very questionable. With St. John's trailing by 12, 71-59, with 4:27 left, the referees finally heard enough and they gave technical fouls to St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin, and then to Ponds.

Xavier was given four free throws due to the pair of technicals, and Marshall went to the line and made two of them to make it 73-59. Soon after, at 3:45, Kyle Castlin went to the line and drained a pair of free throws to give them a 16-point lead, 75-59, their biggest lead of the night.

When Mullin was asked afterwards about the refereeing, he said, "Self-explanatory. It's self-explanatory, you can see that, you've read enough stat sheets"

Mullin was no doubt referring to the fact that Xavier was given 33 free throw attempts (they made 25 of them) to just 5 for his team (SJU was 4-5 on FTs). St. John's was whistled for 20 team fouls to 10 for Xavier.

St. John's was without forward Mustapha Heron for the second straight game, as he battles through tendinitis in his left knee. Mullin said simply that Heron is "day to day."

Mullin said of where he thought Xavier got an advantage, “I thought they put the imprint on the game. Physicality. That was pretty much it. They took it too us physically, dictated tempo of the game, slowed the game down, and got to the free throw line a bunch. We really never got two, three, four good possessions in a row.”

On if teams with size will be a problem to face in the postseason, Mullin said, “We know what we have to do. We just have to do it. Front to post, bump cutters, and be physical just like they are with us. That’s what it comes down too. That’s the physical part of the game, then we can get to the skilled part. We know what we have to do to win a game like this and it’s not what happened tonight.”
Mullin said of the team’s intensity, “I give Xavier some credit with that. They imposed their will physically and put us back on our heels. They pretty much dictated that game and it stayed that way. ... We talked about before the game if it was going to be choppy, get to the free throw line. Not fronting the post, not being active on the ball, not guarding the ball and [Xavier] basically dictated the physicality. … If it’s a game where we are forcing turnovers, deflections and guarding the ball well and getting over the bad calls like that and being physical, that’s the game we want to play.”

Clark said of the team’s effort, “I feel like we did what we had to do to get back into the game. We made runs. I feel like everything else is out of our hands.”

Clark said of where they struggled, “I feel like we brought it. I just feel like we turned the ball over too much. When we did get a stop and get an opportunity, we either turned the ball over or they got an offensive rebound. When it comes to that you’re just not going to win. They get more possessions, more free throws, we do the hard work and then turn it over, we’re just beating ourselves.”

St. John's had no follow-through from last Saturday's win at Madison Square Garden over Seton Hall, 78-70, which was one of their best performances of the season. They also did not have Heron for that one, but they got 27 points from Ponds to make up for his absence.

Mullin was asked about Ponds picking up the slack when Heron is out, “We need more from everybody. Not just Shamorie [Ponds]. Everybody. He is obviously one of our best players and any level when you take one of your best players off, it’s going to put more demand on other guys. The offensive rebounds, 50/50 balls, all of those things become more important.”

St. John's has won two straight in Big East play just once this season (February 12 against Butler at Carnesecca, followed by a 19-point comeback win over Villanova Feb. 17 at The Garden).

Clark said of the Red Storm struggling to string consecutive wins together in Big East play, “Honestly, I don’t have an explanation. I just say inconsistencies. It’s that simple. We have to lock in and get better and realize that we’re playing for something more than just Big East play. We’re playing for seeding. In the tournament, it’s one game, it’s one game that you’re promised. After that, you choose your fate. We’ve got to realize that either we’ve got to lock in and figure it out or we put in all this work for nothing, because that means we play one game and then get sent home. We’ve got to figure out how to string some [wins] together.”

St. John's closes out the regular season with two games on the road, against the only two teams to win at Carnesecca Arena all season. They are at DePaul Sunday at noon, followed by one at Xavier on March 9 at 5 p.m.

Mullin said of the level of concern of finishing the season with two road games, “I think we are in a difficult spot every time we walk on the floor if we don’t stick to our game plan or our responsibilities. … Not looking backwards, but forward. We have another team very similar to {Xavier] in DePaul. … It’s basically a replay of what they did to us here. That’s what DePaul did to us. I am not worried at all. Prepare and go play."

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