St. John’s Falls to Xavier in Big East Tournament

Johnnies fall to Musketeers in Big East Quarterfinals.

Derrell Bouknight, Sports Editor

15 hours after knocking off Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament, St. John’s returned to Madison Square Garden for a noon tip-off against No. 3 Xavier on Thursday.

After a slow start that saw the Red Storm miss several shots early on, Justin Simon got the scoring started with a shot two minutes into the contest.

Two free throws from Marvin Clark II gave St. John’s the lead, 14-13, with over 12 minutes to play in the second half. Simon, who led St. John’s with 12 in the first 20 minutes, hit two consecutive three-pointers to keep the Red Storm (16-17) within striking distance.

Despite four points from Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s went into the locker room trailing 33-29.

The second half belonged to Xavier (28-4), who outscored St. John’s 55-31. The Musketeers extended their lead to 10 with 15:41 to play. From there, Trevon Bluiett took over. He led all scorers with 27, going on a personal 9-0 run over two minutes late in the game to extend Xavier’s lead to 18.

“Offensively I thought we did a really good job,” Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said postgame. “When we got a couple to pop in the second half on the offensive end it kept up our defensive intensity. That’s where we gained the separation.”

After Tariq Owens and Justin Simon each fouled out with under six minutes to play, Xavier extended their lead to 21 on a three from Bluiett.

In the end, the Musketeers walked off the court with an 88-60 win.

“They’re a tough team to play against under any conditions,” Head Coach Chris Mullin said after the game. “They are just really good team through and through.”

After an 0-11 start to conference play, including a January in which the team did not win a game, Mullin was hesitant to evaluate his third season. Although the team went through its rough patches, he remained positive and upbeat about the future and what he believes could be an improved team next season.

“I really haven’t assessed the whole season, but we got off to a good start,” Mullin said. “[We] had a horrendous January and I thought we played pretty well the last 10 games. So up and down, inconsistent for different reasons, different circumstances.”

Simon and Clark, two of the team’s three leading scorers on the afternoon, also echoed the coach’s words and thought.

Both players, transfers from Arizona and Michigan State, respectively, spoke about how much they’ve learned in their first year of on-court Big East action. Simon called it one of the best conferences in the country, and that a goal for next season is to be one of the top-five teams in it.

“I think having that 11-game stretch of losing, losing, losing, losing, most people would have cowered and tucked their tail and ran,” Clark said. “I’m proud of our team for fighting back and making, salvaging something out of the season.”

When asked about whether he talked to Ponds about his status for next season, Mullin said he had yet to do so, but wouldn’t be surprised if he tested the waters.

“I guess there’s a lot of people out there that have opinions, but there’s only 30 people that matter, it’s the 30 [general managers] in the NBA,” Mullin said. “He’ll get his input, like every player in college can, get transparent information and make a smart decision.”