by Josh Adams
New York, NY- In the city that never sleeps, a quick turnaround from playing at night and then at noon the next day usually spells doom for the team that has to run that gauntlet. Such was the story today for St. John’s as they were clearly gassed and didn’t have the talent to match up with the #3 team in the country. Xavier, behind All-American candidate Trevon Bluiett’s 27 points ended the Red Storm’s season on Thursday afternoon. The Musketeers used fresh legs and Bluiett’s marksmanship to throttle the Red Storm as they look ahead to Thursday.
After a nice program win against Georgetown on Wednesday evening, St. John’s returned to their home floor early Thursday afternoon with a little confidence as they have played Xavier tough in Cincinnati and at home where it came down to the final few possessions. Today, almost everything was on the line for St. John’s. A win would make them .500 for the year and get them a possible postseason bid in the NIT. Xavier, the top seed in the Big East Tournament could guarantee themselves a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a few wins this week. The two squared off in front of a mid-afternoon crowd at the Garden that relished in the true March experience of watching hoops and day-drinking on a Thursday afternoon.
The two teams did not disappoint early as Justin Simon carried his fantastic performance against Georgetown on Wednesday into the first half on Thursday for St. John’s, scoring 12 points in the first stanza as the Red Storm kept pace with Xavier as the half progressed. The Musketeers were able to exploit the lack of depth on St. John’s roster and the Red Storm’s all Big-East player, Shamorie Ponds, seemed to not have his usual burst of speed on offense. On the other side of the ball, Kaiser Gates shot lights out for Xavier in the half going 4/5 from the three point arc. As the teams ping-ponged the lead back and forth, the Musketeers took a 33-29 edge at halftime.
The second half became the Bluiett show and it took New York by storm. As St. John’s began to get warned down, the Xavier sharpshooter heated up. Any look that Bluiett got at the basket almost always went in as the Musketeers lead quickly became double digits and the Red Storm started to fade. St. John’s couldn’t muster a rally and by the end of the game, the only fight in the Red Storm was in the handshake line as a few players took exception to Xavier running up the score. In the end, the kerfuffle was meaningless as Xavier prevailed, 88-60.
It was one of the stranger seasons in St. John’s history as the endured an 11 game conference losing streak, had a star player leave in mid-season (Marcus LoVett) yet they beat Duke and Villanova consecutively. “(We) had a horrendous January and I think we played well the last 10 games.”, said Mullin about the year, “So up and down, inconsistent for different reasons, different circumstances.”
There’s plenty to look forward to for next year in Queens. With the return of Clark and Simon and the possibility of Ponds returning, it could be a formidable team in Big East play. Ponds seems like he wants to come back judging by comments he made after the game and I asked Mullin about the chances of Ponds returning for his junior year. “I haven’t advised him as of yet. I think the setup for the kids now is perfect.”, Mullin told me, ” I guess there’s a lot of people out there that have opinions but the only 30 people that matter are the the 30 general managers in the NBA.”
Xavier doesn’t seemed like they will be rattled as they have the #1 seed in the Big East Tournament for the first time since the restructuring of the conference. Their coach, Chris Mack, is keeping them focused on the bigger picture.
“The mountaintop for us was winning the Big East Championship.”, said Mack, “And now we’ve got hopefully some more mountains to climb.”
The sky is the limit for Xavier. Today was the first step in the postseason upwards towards the peak.