Leading by five with less than two minutes to go, St. John’s saw Xavier score the game’s final eight points, as the Musketeers escaped with a 77-74 victory at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
With the loss, St. John’s falls to 14-12 on the year, including a 3-10 mark in BIG EAST play. Xavier improved to 17-9, 6-7 in league action.
Four Johnnies finished in double figures, led by Rasheem Dunn and Marcellus Earlington with 17 points apiece. Dunn scored 12 of those points after the break, while Earlington tallied all but two of his points in the final 20 minutes. Earlington also added a team-high eight boards and two steals.
Nick Rutherford stuffed the stat sheet, scoring a season-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting with seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. The graduate student recorded 14 of his 16 points before the intermission. Julian Champagnie scored all 11 of his points in the opening stanza.
The Johnnies dominated the possession game, forcing 22 turnovers while committing just four of their own. The Red Storm recorded 15 of those 22 turnovers via the steal, just one off their season-high in that category. The Johnnies’ four turnovers marked a season-low.
Six Xavier players finished in double figures, led by a 15-point, 15-rebound double-double from Tyrique Jones.
The teams traded 14-3 runs to open the contest, as St. John’s missed each of its first eight goal attempts to let the Musketeers take an early 11-point lead.
Facing that sizable early deficit, the Johnnies answered with a 16-3 spurt of their own, taking their first lead, 19-17, on a Champagnie transition bucket with 7:36 to go in the first half. That basket marked the first of eight lead changes in the final eight minutes of the period, the last of which put the Musketeers ahead by two in the waning seconds of the half.
Xavier jumped ahead by six in the opening minutes of the second period and maintained a lead until the Red Storm tied the game on a Dunn triple, 50-50, near the 15-minute mark.
The Musketeers managed to keep the Johnnies at bay over the next few minutes before a 10-0 run moved the Red Storm ahead by seven, 68-61, at the under-eight media timeout. The final six of those 10 points were scored by Earlington while eight of those 10 points immediately followed a Xavier turnover.
Xavier cut the deficit to four with a Paul Scruggs trey after the timeout, but Earlington responded with his fourth straight bucket for the Red Storm, pushing the advantage back to six, 70-64, with 6:41 to go.
From there, the Red Storm went more than four and a half minutes without a field, but managed to hold off Xavier with high pressure defense, moving back ahead by five, 74-69, on a Rutherford transition slam with 2:06 to play.
With the Musketeers trailing by one and less than 30 seconds on the clock, Naji Marshall committed a turnover that could have sealed the contest for St. John’s. Dunn, who was fouled after making the steal, missed the front-end of the 1-and-1, giving Xavier another chance at a go-ahead bucket. This time, Marshall drove and dumped it off to freshman Zach Freemantle, who sank a baseline floater and gave the Musketeers their first lead in more than 10 minutes.
St. John’s had one last look at a game-winning basket, but a 17-foot floater from LJ Figueroa bounced off iron and effectively sealed the Xavier victory.
The Red Storm returns to action on Sunday afternoon, traveling to No. 16 Seton Hall for the latest edition of their longstanding local BIG EAST rivalry.
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Anderson
“The first thing I told my guys was ‘I feel for you guys.’” You’re right there on the cusp of beating a good team that’s been playing really well and just could not finish the last minute and a half the correct way. …. You’ve got to make plays going down the stretch. Give [Xavier] credit, they made plays. Even when we were talking about the last shot that’s a floater that LJ [Figueroa can] make. Obviously, we wanted to try and draw a foul, but at the same time it shouldn’t have come down to that. … In other phases of the game I thought we played well. We took care of the ball and we created havoc with our defense. … Our guys will keep working and keep working to turn that into a positive.”
On Nick Rutherford’s play…
“I thought Nick was in a zone. Defensively, he came out the right way. … He can get to the basket and finish. … I thought he ignited us and he ignited us in a great way and we need that on this basketball team.”
On how close he thinks his team is to winning games in the BIG EAST…
“We only turned the ball over four times in the game. We forced 22 turnovers and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. I thought the turnovers that we did create, we didn’t make them pay for it. We’re doing some things in some areas well, but then I thought we took a step back in the rebounding department, especially when it mattered most. [Xavier] made some tough shots, but give them credit. They’ve got some experienced guys who have been through the wars.
“We may be taking some lumps right now, but we’re learning as we go and the thing I like about these guys is that they are resilient. They just keep coming back and keep fighting.”
On the last five games against nationally ranked BIG EAST opponents…
“Every night no matter who you play [is a challenge]. From 1-10. … It’s a great league. … It’s a challenge, but the other part is a great opportunity. We’ve played these teams before so we’re familiar with them. They’re familiar with us. They’re playing on a pretty good level. We’re coming in the right direction. Our kids are playing their hearts out, just not getting rewarded.”
St. John’s Forward Marcellus Earlington
On the team when things were clicking tonight…
“Everybody was feeding off each other. We were talking on defense, we were playing with energy and we were just doing what Coach [Anderson] was telling us to do. I’m very proud of my team, first of all. I’m very proud of them, they fought. We’re a resilient group, we’re a bunch of fighters and we fought to the end today.”
On the team’s finish to the game…
“We just have to learn how to finish. We played great for 35 minutes, but just like I said we just have to learn how to finish.”
On what his team has to do to get over the hump…
“We just have to play our basketball. We have to just finish, honestly. We had a play drawn up. We had a good look and we just have to make the shot or get to the free throw line like Coach [Anderson] said. I think we did a good job of attacking. Our last shot, our best player had the basketball in his hands and he had a shot that he was capable of making. In the prior games we’ve lost we’ve had shots that we were capable of making. We just have to fix up the little things and that will lead up to a win.”
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