Xavier blows out St. John’s, continues journey towards Big East dominance

The Xavier Musketeers continued their dominant play in the Big East Thursday, blowing out the St. John’s Red Storm 88-60 in Madison Square Garden in the second round of the Big East Tournament.

Trevon Bluiett showed why he’s first team All-Big East in this game, lighting up the scoreboard for 27 points while also grabbing eight boards. The Musketeers were also able to stifle Shamorie Ponds, holding him to only 15 points on 4-14 shooting, seven of those points coming from the free throw line.

“It’s not easy to beat St. John’s on their home floor,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said after the game. “But we did. And hopefully we’ll be ready to go tomorrow night against the winner, Creighton or Providence.”

Xavier dominated during the regular season, finishing first in the Big East with a 15-3 record in conference play and 27-4 overall. The No. 3 team in the nation is led by All-American candidate Trevon Bluiett as well as Big East Coach of the Year Chris Mack and are looking to get the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament with a win in the Big East Tournament.

St. John’s came into this game only 14 hours after beating Georgetown 88-77 in the first round. Although the Red Storm finished ninth in the conference, they found success against some of the top programs in the nation, including wins over Duke and Villanova earlier this February back to back. They also only lost their two games against Xavier by a combined 11 points.

“They’re a tough team to play against under any conditions,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said about the quick turnaround. “The turnaround is what it is. It’s scheduled out and that’s what you get for coming in ninth.”

“Coming into the game we have a ton of respect for St. John’s knowing that in both contests this year it was nip and tuck,” Mack said.

It was back and forth early on, with the Musketeers and the Red Storm trading buckets on both ends, with a total of eight lead changes in the first half. With 9:38 remaining in the first, the Red Storm found themselves on top 19-17. Sophomore guard Justin Simon got off to a hot start for the Red Storm, scoring 10 of St. Johns’ first 19 points. Xavier found itself in the lead at the end of the first however 33-29.

Free throws proved to help the Musketeers maintain that lead throughout the first. Although they only shot 36 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc, the Musketeers managed to get to the charity stripe 12 times, making 11 of them.

J.P. Macura played well for the Musketeers. A glue guy for Xavier, he was a presence on both ends of the floor, consistently contributing however he could.

“I think so many of the things that he does very well don’t necessarily resonate or show in the box scores,” Mack said about Macura. “He’s got win-first/J.P. second, and he’s not alone.”

Ponds, the star player for the Red Storm as well as the leading scorer in the conference at 21.8 points per game, struggled to find a rhythm in the first half, putting up only four points. Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II were able to pick up the slack however, getting 12 and eight points respectively after one.

Xavier started to build momentum in the beginning of the second half. The tide seemed to turn as the Musketeers started to hit shots and the Red Storm struggled. A Bluiett three with 15:42 to go in the put Xavier up 45-35, prompting a quick St. John’s timeout.

Xavier continued to dominate in the second half, with St. John’s quickly falling behind. The Red Storm started to find themselves settling more and more for outside shots, which is exactly what the Musketeers were hoping for. As shot after shot rimmed out for the Red Storm, more and more seemed to fall for Xavier, and with 9:04 remaining in the game the Musketeers found themselves up 65-46.

The Musketeers maintained their lead throughout the second, with St. John’s never finding a way to close the gap. It was Xavier’s half through and through, and it culminated in a final score of 88-60.

Xavier will play the winner of Creighton vs. Providence Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Madison Square Garden.

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