In what was a critical bubble game, St. John’s (19-9, 8-7) pulled off the season sweep of Xavier (18-11, 8-8), winning 58 to 57 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
Xavier guard, Myles Davis, had a leaning shot to win it at the buzzer but it didn’t fall and Chris Obekpa tracked down the rebound to get the Johnnies over .500 in Big East play for the first time this season.
Sir’Dominic Pointer, 19 points, nine rebounds and six blocks, showed once again why he is such an important part to the Johnnies success this season. He was lethal in transition and his experience showed in shutting down Matt Stainbrook, who had the size advantage down low.
“I don’t know anybody in our league, let alone the country, that influences the game at both ends of the floor in such dramatic fashion (like Pointer),” Steve Lavin said. “I know in my career I haven’t had a player like that, not even close.”
Rysheed Jordan had another effective game as he dropped 10 points, dished out six assists and recorded zero turnovers. Phil Greene, 5 points on 2-for-8 shooting, struggled for the Johnnies but he did hit a big time three down the stretch.
Despite the victory, it wasn’t all impressive for the Red Storm.
In the opening four minutes of the game, Xavier was more aggressive and played with more emotion, leading to an 11-0 start. In the first seven minutes of the second half, the Johnnies once again struggled to adjust to the game missing six straight free throws and showing poor shot selection.
Both runs were counteracted by the ability to create turnovers and block shots defensively. Pointer and Obekpa, four blocks and a career high five steals, stole the show, controlling the paint and making it tough for their opponent to finish around the rim.
These turnovers and blocks created fast break opportunities and easy baskets for the home team. St. John’s scored 20 points off 20 Xavier turnovers and beat the Musketeers on the fast break 14-to-0.
Even though the Johnnies shot just 40 percent from the free throw line, they countered shooting 44 percent from the field and had 14 assists on 24 field goals.
Lavin’s squad was also out-rebounded by 20 by the Musketeers but the length and athleticism of Pointer and Obekpa changed the game as St. John’s dominated the paint, scoring 38 points in the colored area.
“We played scared around the basket, we missed layups, we got our shots block and our guards played tentative with the ball,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said.
And now St. John’s is now one step closer to achieving their ultimate goal: Making the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s looking good right now,” Pointer said. “As long as we keep playing our game, we will be fine. We have faith in our hands right now. Everything will work out.”
Next up the Johnnies will host the Georgetown Hoyas, who manhandled them at the Verizon Center earlier in the Big East season. Another victory will go a long way towards March.