St. John’s falls to Xavier 65-53 at MSG

Photos: Jalen Miller

After a strong start to February the St. John’s men’s basketball team dropped its second game in a row Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden 65-53 at the hands of Big East rival Xavier.

The Red Storm’s (18-11, 8-8) lack of presence in the paint combined with a poor shooting display from behind the arc and the free throw line proved to be the difference maker.  Because of the loss, St. John’s failed to take sole possession of third place in the Big East standings and dropped to sixth.

“We were disappointed with the lack of resistance on the defensive end of the floor,” head coach Steve Lavin said.  “Offensively we struggled to find a rhythm.”

St. John’s struggled at all ends offensively finishing the game with a 36.7 shooting percentage including 2-of-16 from behind the arc.  The Red Storm also struggled from the charity stripe shooting 53.8 percent and had no transition game to speak of, as they had zero fast break points.

Sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson finished with a team-high 14 points and five rebounds.  After missing Saturday’s game against No. 9 Villanova due to the birth of his first child, senior forward Orlando Sanchez finished with 11 points and four rebounds.  Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison struggled from the field finishing with just four points on 1-of-11 shooting.

St. John’s freshman guard Rysheed Jordan suffered a tough week dealing with a death in the family and was a game-time decision, but came off the bench to finish with 11 points and three steals.

“He wanted to participate,” said Lavin.  “He did the best he could under the circumstances.”

The Musketeer’s (19-9, 9-6) started the game on fire shooting 56.0 percent in the first half.  The Musketeers finished with four players in double-digit scoring and were led by freshman forward Jalen Reynolds who finished the game with career-highs in points and rebounds with 17 and 16 respectively.  The Musketeers dominated the paint as well outscoring St. John’s 38-22.

“We weren’t pleased with our defensive effort tonight,” Lavin said.  “Defensive creates a lot of our offense and we didn’t have a sustained effort that we have become accustomed to in the past 13-14 games.” Junior guard Jamal Branch added, “We didn’t do a good job communicating and 56% (opponent shooting) in the first half is not us and not acceptable.”

With the season coming down to its final two games before the Big East tournament, the Red Storm’s 0-5 start in conference play could be a potential backbreaker to making the NCAA Tournament.

“Every game is like a championship game,” junior guard Phil Greene IV said.  “We have a lot of basketball left and we’re going to be prepared and ready to make the NCAA tournament.”