After erasing a 23-point deficit in a narrow loss to No. 11/10 Butler on New Year’s Eve to begin conference play, the St. John’s men’s basketball team will kick off its first true road swing of the year on Sunday when it takes on Xavier in Cincinnati.
Tip-off from Cintas Center is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live nationally on FOX with Tim Brando and Donny Marshall on the call. Fans can also hear the game on the Red Storm Sports Network presented by Learfield IMG College, as John Minko and Vin Parise will narrate the action on 970 AM WNYM, Sirius XM and TuneIn Radio.
The Red Storm (11-3, 0-1 BIG EAST) saw its seven-game winning streak snapped when it nearly pulled off one of the most memorable comebacks in program history on Tuesday against Butler. Trailing the no. 11 team in the land by as many as 23 points early in the second half, the Johnnies wiped out the deficit and climbed ahead by as many as five in the closing minutes. St. John’s held Butler without a point for more than nine minutes during a 19-0 spurt, but the Bulldogs recorded the game’s final run, scoring the last seven points of the evening and escaping Queens with a 60-58 victory.
With the loss, St. John’s suffered its first falter of the season in a Quad One opportunity, as the Johnnies topped West Virginia (No. 10 in the NET) at Madison Square Garden and Arizona (No. 20 in the NET) at San Francisco’s Chase Center in the Al Attles Classic. The Red Storm jumped six spots to no. 48 in Friday morning’s update of the NET rankings, four spots behind Sunday’s foe, Xavier. The contest will serve as yet another Quad One opportunity, as will Wednesday night’s showdown at Georgetown. According to Friday’s rankings, 11 of the Red Storm’s remaining 17 BIG EAST games present a shot at a Quad One win. Eight of the BIG EAST’s 10 teams currently rank inside the top 50 of the NET and nine teams received votes in this past Monday’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Red Storm nearly pulled off the upset against Butler despite receiving zero points from its top two scorers. Mustapha Heron missed his third straight game with a sprained right ankle suffered on Dec. 10 while LJ Figueroa posted no points after being limited to 14 minutes because of foul trouble. In the absence of their offensive production, four Johnnies finished in double figures, led by Nick Rutherford with 15 points. In the second half alone, the graduate transfer from Indianapolis posted 13 points, five assists and five steals to lead the Red Storm’s comeback effort. Rasheem Dunn added 12 points and three steals while Greg Williams Jr. set or matched career-highs with 11 points, four assists and three steals in 26 minutes of action while surrendering no turnovers. Marcellus Earlington also chipped in 10 points and blocked a shot.
Heron, a senior guard who has scored 1,628 during his collegiate career, is still considered a game-time decision for Sunday’s contest with Xavier.
The Red Storm forced Butler into 24 turnovers on Tuesday, flipping the script for a Bulldogs team that ranked fifth in the nation with just 10.4 turnovers per contest entering the game. St. John’s recorded 16 of those 24 turnovers via the steal, bumping its average in that category to 10.4 per game, good enough for fourth in Division I. St. John’s has now recorded 15 or more thefts in a game three times this season and is the only team to accomplish the feat even once.
Turnovers could play a key role in a potential St. John’s victory on Sunday afternoon, as Xavier ranks 222nd in the nation averaging 14.3 turnovers per game. Through games played on Thursday, St. John’s is tied for seventh nationally with a +5.7 turnover margin.
St. John’s will look to snap a lengthy losing streak against the Musketeers, as the Red Storm has lost each of its last nine matchups with Xavier dating back to the 2015-16 season. In 2018-19, the Musketeers topped the Johnnies twice in the final three games of the campaign, including a victory in Cincinnati on the final day of the regular season that kept St. John’s from securing the no. 3 seed in the BIG EAST Tournament.
Xavier returns four of its five starters from that 2018-19 team and is off to an 11-3 start, including a 0-1 record in conference play. The Musketeers, who received 58 votes in last week’s AP poll and finished two spots outside the Top 25, are 8-0 inside Cintas Center this season. Xavier has dropped road tilts at No. 10 Villanova and Wake Forest while suffering a neutral site defeat against Florida in the championship game of the Charleston Classic.
A Second Team All-BIG EAST selection as a sophomore in 2018-19, Naji Marhsall leads Xavier and ranks sixth in the conference with 16.4 points per game. The Atlantic City, N.J., native paces three Musketeers in double figures, as Paul Scruggs averages 14.5 points per outing while senior forward Tyrique Jones is one of three BIG EAST players averaging a double-double at 13.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per contest.
Xavier ranks second in the league in scoring defense, allowing 64.0 points per game. The Musketeers have proven exceptionally adept at limiting opponents from three-point range, holding foe to a 29.1 percent success rate from beyond the arc.
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