LaVall Jordan: The Man Who Wanted Butler

While the Butler Bulldogs may have regressed this year in terms of win total and regular season rankings, players, fans and the people who work around the team are optimistic about the future of the program after what they’ve seen from first-year helmsmen LaVall Jordan.

Jordan, the winningest player in Butler history, the two-time all conference player for the Bulldogs, three-time NCAA tournament participant, the coach who was a mere game away from bringing an 11-win Milwaukee team all the way to the NCAA tournament just last year, is now the coach behind Butler’s first-ever Big East Tournament victory.

The 75-74 win over Seton Hall demonstrated Ball’s coaching skill, as Butler trailed by seven in the game’s final minutes. The win is one Butler aficionados of the world hope is only the beginning of what will be a program-defining legacy.

“Jordan is a Butler man through and through,” said Butler Collegian sports editor Dana Lee.

Jordan made that evident at his introductory press conference.

“I can’t wait for the first game when I hear the chant: ‘BU – TLE – R U a Bulldog’…and I might stop coaching for a second and say, ‘Hell yeah,’” he said.

Jordan’s connections to Butler go beyond his playing days and in fact extend through most of his post-collegiate life.

After returning from a one-year stint playing overseas in Europe, he served for four years as an assistant on coach Todd Lickliter’s Butler staff before following him to Iowa, where he assisted Lickliter for three more years.

When Brad Stevens, Lickliter’s replacement, left Butler to lead the Boston Celtics in 2013, Jordan was one of the leading candidates to replace him, but was eventually passed up on in favor of Brandon Miller.

According to those who are close with him, he never stopped pining for the Butler job, and after missing out on it the first time was more than willing to lie in wait for another opportunity. In the meantime, he honed his coaching chops as an assistant coach at Michigan before eventually undertaking his one-year stint at Milwaukee.

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said his three matches against Jordan this year have impressed him.

“I think LaVall has – the league is lucky to have him,” Willard said. “Obviously Butler is lucky to have him. And he’s done a phenomenal job.”

More specifically Williard pointed to Jordan’s superior usage of Martin Wideman and Kamar Baldwin down the stretch, something he believes Jordan improved upon from earlier in the season.

If the reaction of fans, team media and even his own rivals are anything to go by, Butler is indeed lucky to have him for any potential tournament run now, and for however many seasons his passion for Butler University basketball continues to light up Hinkle Fieldhouse and wherever else the Bulldogs need someone to steer them through it all.

Villanova dominates the 2nd half, cruises to 88-64 victory over Marquette

The Villanova Wildcats opened up their Big East Tournament play in decisive fashion against seventh-seed Marquette, pulling away in the second half to a 94-70 final score.

Redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges was the key for the Wildcats, scoring a team-leading 25 points and eight rebounds while adding four assists and a steal. Junior guard Jalen Brunson was also a big factor, dropping 21 points, including three of six from behind the arc, and three assists on the night.

“I think they showed they played last night,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They were a little sharp with us early, but we hung in there. I think the leadership of Jalen [Brunson] and Mikal [Bridges] kept everybody together.”

The game started out slow, with both teams shooting fewer than 25 percent from the floor and combining for only 4-18 from 3-point range. No team lead by more than five points until 12 seconds before the end of the first half, when Villanova pulled ahead by seven on a Phil Booth layup.

It was all Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey for Marquette in the first half, combining for 30 of the Golden Eagles’ 34 points. They rained threes on Wildcats for as long as they could, going 4-6 and 3-8 from the arc respectively.

Marquette’s victory against DePaul on Wednesday began to show through during the second half, with Villanova outscoring them 53-34 and running the Golden Eagles’ legs out from under them. The Wildcats had a variety of contributors in the half in addition to Brunson and Bridges, including redshirt junior guard Phil Booth, who tacked on 13 points and two assists, and redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall, who scored nine and also grabbed two of his seven rebounds on the night.

“We just gave them too much space in the first half,” Wright said. “I thought our guys did a great job in the second half, they got a little worn down, and we were able to stay fresh.”

The Wildcats were able to neutralize Markus Howard in the second half, holding him to just seven points and 1-4 from 3-point range after he scored 16 on 4-6 in the first half. As a team, their 3-point field goal percentage dropped from 46.7 in the first to just 33.3 during the second half.

Villanova really began to pull away with 14 minutes left in the second half, when a long 3-pointer from Booth put the Wildcats up by 15. At the five-minute mark, redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman hit another three that pushed their lead to 24. The Golden Eagles’ were never able to get back under 20.

For the game, Villanova outplayed Marquette in almost every statistical category, shooting 15 percent more efficiently than the Golden Eagles while outrebounding them 37-26 and scoring 12 more points in the paint.

This makes the 36th straight year that the Big East Tournament was held in Madison Square Garden, which makes it the longest-tendered venue for any conference basketball tournament. Historically, the Wildcats play very well in New York and in the Garden.

“I think every game here means a lot to us,” Brunson said. “It’s great tradition, great history here in this arena. This tournament has a lot of great memories. It’s always a battle whenever you’re in a game here.”

On Friday night, Villanova will take on the Seton Hall Pirates, who were victorious over the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday, in the Big East semi-finals. According to Coach Wright, improving their defensive effort will be the key for the Wildcats.

“Defense and rebounding. It’s the same thing all year for us. We’re a good offensive team but you could see we went through some spurts there where we get it going offensively and then just relax defensively. We’ve just got to be more consistent.”

Second half powers Villanova to blowout of Marquette

Villanova sent Marquette packing in a 94-70 blow-out win in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals Thursday night, but the first half of the game had peopler in the Garden thinking a different result was possible.

After facing off against one another twice during the regular season, with their last meeting yielding a razor thin 85-82 victory for the Wildcats, Marquette and Villanova faced off for the third time this season in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament.

The contest started off slowly with the conference leaders in field goal percentage, the Golden Eagles, missing their first three shots and the second basket of the game not coming until nearly two and a half minutes into the first quarter, when Markus Howard hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 3. From there on out, though, the first half was a dog fight with the largest lead by ether team until the final two minutes being five, briefly held by Villanova.

The Golden Eagles strategy early in the game was evident, attempting to limit the depth of a Wildcats’ roster that led the NCAA in scoring this year at a clip of 88.0 points per game and features six players in double digit scoring figures.

Marquette was seemingly able to force the scoring burden squarely onto the shoulders of Nova’s two leading scorers, Jalen Brunson (19.0 ppg) and Mikal Bridges (17.6 ppg), both of whom were the only Villanova players with a field goal until nearly a quarter of the way through the game when Eric Paschall converted a layup with 10:13 left to go in the first quarter.

This surge of contribution from Nova’s secondary players didn’t faze Marquette much by the time the first half was drawing to a close, but the difference in depth between the two teams was apparent. Villanova went on a 8-2 run to end out the half and entered the locker rooms with a 41-34 lead.

Coming out of the half Marquette was able to hold off the inevitable for a little while, keeping the game to first half-esqe scores before Nova’s first big run of the game began. Villanova went on a 12-0 run that began with 18:00 left to play and lasted until Marquette finally responded with 13:11 remaining on the clock. This run was highlighted with what may have been the play of the game, a vicious block from Bridges that lead to a lightening quick fast break three pointer from Brunson.

By this point Marquette’s overreliance on its leading scorers Markus Howard (20.3 ppg) and Andrew Rowsey (20.0 ppg) and a lack of secondary scoring options was obvious. Howard and Rowsey combined for 30 points in the game’s first half, but by the second half a combination of Villanova’s improved defense of the pair and waning energy levels throughout the rest of the Golden Eagles squad led to a Marquette team that lacked little if any pop for the majority of the second half.

Following a few other high-octane put-away type runs, Villanova easily had the conference quarterfinal game in hand alongside some impressive individual performances, with the Wildcats boasting four players in double-digit scoring figures, led by Mikal Bridges, who paced all players in the contest with 25 points to go with his eight rebounds.

A major key for the Wildcats in this game was their efficiency, especially from the 3-point line, where they recovered from a weak by their standards 33 percent first half from beyond the arc to post a 52 percent completion rate from three to end the game.

Coach Jay Wright said that they follow the mantra of “Shoot em up, sleep in the streets” when it comes to the 3-point arc, and he said that he believes that his players are good enough that he has no problem with telling them to shoot more when he sees fit.

Wright and his Wildcats will be back in the Garden Friday at 9 p.m. to face off against the winner of the Butler and Seton Hall game in the Big East Tournament semifinals.

Providence edges Creighton for Big East quarterfinal win

New York — Kyron Cartwright walked down the court in the final 14 seconds of Thursday’s Big East Tournament quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden, stirring the pot like the Houston Rockets’ James Harden. The senior guard did a 360-degree spin, fall away jumper from the edge of the free throw line.

Cartwright’s final field goal in the game gave No. 5 seed Providence the edge over No. 4 seed Creighton with a 72-68 overtime victory. He scored 13 points while teammate Alpha Diallo had 19 points and five rebounds.

“That’s one of my moves that I go to when I need it,” Cartwright said. “I tried doing it in the first half, but it was blocked, but fortunately that time I was able to get it off with enough space to make the shot.”

The Friars will play No. 1 seed Xavier in the tournament semifinals. The Friars split with the Musketeers during the regular season series, winning 81-72 in Providence Jan. 6, while Xavier took the rematch 84-74 in Cincinnati Feb. 28.

Providence (20-12) head coach Ed Cooley appreciated the Providence crowd making the three-hour drive to Madison Square Garden. With an attendance of 17,647 at the venue, most of it was filled with Providence gear.

“Obviously being so close to home, from Providence, we have a bunch of fans and alumni who actually moved to New York and come to see us play,” Cooley said. “We have fans who travel across the country to watch us and stuff like that.”

Creighton (21-11) was led by Marcus Foster’s 19 points on seven of 14 shooting. The BlueJays’ head coach Greg McDermott knew that games against Providence come down to the final moments.

“I felt coming into this game that it was going to be kind of a rock fight,” McDermott said. “ It usually is when we play Providence, and today certainly fit into that category.”

The BlueJays’ shot the ball better than the Friars but were unable capitalize on Providence’s missed free throws down the stretch.

Foster could have won the game on the last possession in regulation, but his 3-point attempt was short.

“The last play is something that I always work on,” Foster said. “I was doing too much, trying to dribble too much into my shot. But I was looking for the step-back 3 like I always do, and I just lost it and we ended up going overtime.”

With the Big East Conference being a competitive conference, Creighton hopes to have its name called in the NCAA Tournament.

Providence fed off of the energy at Madison Square Garden but Cooley respects the Big East regular season championship squad in Xavier.

“We’re playing against a really, really good team in Xavier, and I think it is an advantage, but I think it’s more of how we play than just the crowd,” Cooley said.

Providence will look to continue its success in the Big East Tournament against Xavier at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Trevon Bluiett exceeding his game at the right moment

New York — With the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, it didn’t take long for Trevon Bluiett to find the basket.

The Xavier senior guard scored a career Big East Tournament-high 27 points along with seven rebounds in the quarterfinals victory against St. John’s Thursday. Bluiett knows that the Musketeers are on the verge of something special in his senior season, being the No. 1-seeded team in the tournament.

“It’s coming down here and trying to win one goal, and that’s just trying to win the Big East championship,” Bluiett said. “That’s just me playing my hardest for my team, making sacrifices for my team.”

The 6-foot-6-inch guard has received a lot of attention on the national level this year with the team’s success. Blueitt has been a candidate for the National Player of the Year, All-American, Big East Player of the Year and Julius Erving Award while leading Xavier to a 28-4 record this season.

Bluiett’s game has been elevating since his freshman season and has blossomed to the player he is today. His points per game have seen an increase each year from 11.9 as a freshman to 19.4 as a senior. Thursday’s game showed that Blueitt is ready for the big stage in March.

“I don’t think I’m really trying to prove something,” Bluiett said. “It’s just my confidence is how I feel.”

In one possession in Thursday’s game against St. John’s, Bluiett attempted a contested 3-point shot in front of the Musketeers’ bench. He looked back at his head coach Chris Mack and said, “Coach, we’ll get the good ones next time down the floor.”

In the next possession where Bluiett had the ball, he made a 3-pointer to crush St. John’s hopes for a comeback. Mack’s team cruised in the final minutes of the game and advanced to Big East semifinals.

“What I love about this team is the connectivity we have,” Mack said. “The togetherness that we play with.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise to many if Bluiett and Xavier made a real deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But first, Xavier will play Providence in the Big East semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“The mountaintop for us was winning the Big East regular season championship,” Mack said. “Now we’ve got hopefully more mountains to climb.

Tournament’s production manager milks his experience at The Garden

Moments after overtime starts during the Big East Tournament quarterfinal matchup between Providence and Creighton, Austin Poplin is called from courtside from within the underbelly of Madison Square Garden.

Poplin comes rushing through the courtside tunnel and into an immense concrete room serving as a pathway to various parts of The Garden’s backstage.

What is so important and pressing that he needs to be called from courtside?

A reporter walks up and asks, “What is it about the milk?”

Thirty minutes earlier, Poplin sits at a white plastic table in the media lounge in Madison Square Garden, sipping a cup of milk.

After scouring the tables for any food source other than the small bags of Lays chips and pile of cookies littering the tables, Poplin grabs a cup of milk.

Poplin, the production manager for a media company headquartered in New York City, handles the behind-the-scenes production work for the Big East Tournament.

It’s a full-service production company that specializes in live coverage of sporting and fashion events. Yes, fashion.

Not two events that typically complement each other.

Poplin oversees the planning and logistics to make sure cameramen and other production employees can do their jobs with no extra stress or work involved.

Poplin’s company works parallel with FOX, who manages the actual coverage that goes out on live TV.

“We do all the stuff for the conference itself, that they will push out to promote the tournament,” Poplin said.

Poplin’s been in his managerial role with the company for two years but worked as a freelancer for the company before being hired full-time.

Depending on the event they’re covering, they use anywhere from one or two people to upwards of 50 employees for a single event.

“It’s interesting to be a part of different jobs and tailor each set for what is required for the client,” Poplin said.

The company has offices in New York, Copenhagen, Denmark and Seattle, Washington.

“I’ve been sent overseas before, but not to Denmark,” Poplin said. “I’ve been to Seattle for a project.”

While his job has sent him to places like Seattle and even overseas, Poplin said he’s covered many events at Madison Square Garden, other than just the Big East Tournament.

“It’s a cool place to work,” Poplin said.

But Poplin said the most memorable events he’s covered have been on Roosevelt Island, a narrow isle on New York City’s East River, situated between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“I did a lot of work in the first part of the day, and the second part of the day it’s like, ‘just go backstage and see all the shows,’” Poplin said. “It’s like, ‘alright, this is pretty cool.’”

But why did Poplin choose to drink milk? There’s coffee, tea, bottled water, different kinds of soda everywhere at The Garden, but why did he choose milk?

And who drinks milk during the day, let alone a production manager in Madison Square Garden at 4:56 p.m. during a Big East Tournament quarterfinal game?

And it wasn’t even like Poplin settled on milk. He specifically sought it out.

“It was not some sort of grandeur thing with that,” Poplin said. “I enjoy a glass of milk. Everybody’s got their idiosyncrasies.”

While he was searching through the food options and passing up the potato chips and cookies, and before finally making his way to the drinks section of the tables, he looked like someone just seeking out something that had nutrients in it.

No. Poplin knew he was going to get milk before he even looked through the meager selection of food.

“It was a common beverage in my house,” Poplin said. “I find it not that weird to drink a glass of milk during the day. But people have called me out on that for being weird.”

Poplin said he chose the milk because it was there.

“Of the things they had available, milk seemed the best to me,” Poplin said.

A Big East tourney title would give Xavier its goal of being the conference’s best

This year has been a year of firsts for the Xavier Musketeers. It is the first year they’ve won the Big East regular season title since joining the conference in 2013, and it is also the first year they’ve eclipsed the No. 5 ranking in the AP polls in program history. Now they’re poised to pull off one more first: a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Xavier has long strived to reach the pinnacle of the Big East. Winning this year’s conference tournament would put them there.

That’s not to say this Xavier team isn’t good. It is. There’s a reason it dethroned Villanova as the regular season champions of the Big East. The Musketeers are a high scoring, highly efficient team on offense, led by Trevon Bluiett, a potential All-American who’s scoring 19.2 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3.

They’ve got guys like senior guard J.P. Macura and junior forward Kaiser Gates, high energy guys who are able to contribute on both ends of the floor. Big East Coach of the Year Chris Mack has his players looking better than they ever have before. They’re an undeniably fun and entertaining team to watch, and they’re flying higher than ever.

“The mountaintop for us was winning the Big East regular season championship,” Mack said after dominating the St. John’s Red Storm 88-60. “And now, we’ve got hopefully some more mountains to climb.”

Now that Xavier has reached the top, it has a new goal: staying there.

The Big East is one of the best conferences in college basketball. There’s Xavier, but after that there’s Villanova, the only other team to win the regular season title in the past five years since conference realignment, as well as a national title in 2016.

There is also Providence and Creighton, two teams that are perennial threats to make the tournament. Providence has made the tournament the past four years and is on the bubble right now to make it for a fifth year.

Creighton made the tournament last year, and with a 21-10 record this season looks poised to do it again. There’s also teams like Butler and Marquette, teams that historically have made it to the NCAA tournament and done well. The Big East is stacked with talent, and Xavier knows it.

“We had 70 percent of our league making the NCAA Tournament a year ago,” Mack said about how far the conference has come. “This year’s been a dogfight. We certainly came on the right end of a couple of one-possession games.”

The fact that these games were so close is what makes Xavier interesting. The team played well in the regular season, but a lot of its conference wins aren’t that convincing.

Ten of the Musketeers 15 wins this year were by single digits, and seven of those 10 were by five points or fewer. Along with this, they were swept in the regular season by Villanova, beaten handily in both games.

Tournament season is significantly different than the regular season, and the Musketeers are going to need to turn it on like they did against St. John’s Thursday if they want to stay on top.

In order to solidify themselves as the best, it’s pretty simple what they have to do: win the conference tournament and beat Villanova.

For now though, the Musketeers aren’t too worried about what the Wildcats are doing. All they care about is the next game and themselves.

“Our focus really isn’t on Villanova right now,” Gates said about potentially facing the Wildcats in the tournament. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time.”

Mack said the rankings didn’t matter.

“I’m not smart enough to — and haven’t been in this position enough — to know one seed, two seed,” Mack said. “I think these guys are cognizant of the fact when we were an 11 seed it added an extra one, and it didn’t matter a year ago. We’ve got to go out there and play with desperation and want the game more, and hopefully we continue that ride here as we play on in March.”

It’s a simple mentality that plenty of teams adopt during tournament play. But the question is when Villanova becomes that next game — which will most likely happen, sooner rather than later — is Xavier up for the challenge?

Xavier delivers 28-point drubbing to St. John’s in second round

Xavier’s offensive firepower was impressive, but its defense is what powered the Musketeers to the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament.

No. 3 Xavier deployed a suffocating zone defense and an electric transition offense to capture an 88-60 win over St. John’s in the second round of the Big East Tournament Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

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Xavier and St. John's prepare to face off prior to their quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden Thursday, March 8, 2018. Photo credit: Eric Trent
Xavier (28-4, 16-3) faces the winner of No. 4 seed Creighton (19-12) and No. 5 seed Providence (21-10) in the semi-finals Friday night at 6:30 p.m.

The Musketeers have reached the Big East Tournament semifinals every year since joining the conference in 2013.

Xavier coach Chris Mack praised the Musketeer’s defense for shutting down a St. John’s (16-17, 4-14) offense that put up 88 points Wednesday night against Georgetown.

“In the first and second half we defended our tails off,” Mack said. “I thought we were really locked in.”

Senior guard Trevon Bluiett led the way for the Musketeers on offense, dropping 27 points and pulling down seven boards.

Xavier continued its success at fending off a St. John’s team that had won four of its last five games in New York City, including a victory over then-No. 4 Duke on Feb. 3.

It’s the third-straight time the Musketeers have beaten St. John’s this season; an 88-82 win on Jan. 17 and a 73-68 victory on Jan. 30, where St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds dropped 31 on the Musketeers.

Ponds, who scored 26 points in the Johnnies’ 88-77 victory over Georgetown Wednesday, was held to just four points in the first half and 15 points on the night, going 0-for-7 from long range.

“We made him use the ball screen, rather than reject it,” Mack said. “Our guys on the backside did a really good job of limiting his options.”

The Musketeers held St. John’s backcourt tandem of Ponds and sophomore guard Justin Simon to 29 combined points.

Bluiett said he knew Simon and Ponds used ball screens to get open and that Xavier’s guards could use that to their advantage.

“Our guards did a good job executing, taking them out of their game a little bit,” Bluiett said. “Knowing what we’re supposed to do on ball screens and take them out of the game kind of worked for us.”

After taking a 33-29 halftime advantage, Xavier built a 67-46 lead in the second half on a bevy of 3-pointers, including six straight points from Bluiett.

Xavier shot only 36 percent from the field in the first half, but was aided by a swarming perimeter defense that converted 16 points off eight St. John’s turnovers in the first half.

St. John’s isolation offense proved futile against Xavier’s pack line and zone defense.

The Johnnies hit five-of-15 treys, but were unable to convert buckets down-low, or draw fouls, leading to only three combined assists

It didn’t help the Johnnies had a distinct size disadvantage on the glass.

The Musketeers dominated the paint in the first half, scoring 16 points down-low after gaining a 20-13 rebound advantage, including seven offensive boards. St. John’s was out-rebounded 42-30 on the night.

The first half was only kept close thanks to Johnnies’ sophomore guard Justin Simon, who had 12 points in the first 10 minutes of regulation, two more than the rest of his team combined.

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Post-game press conference Photo credit: Eric Trent
Simon connected on 2-of-3 3s on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half.

In the second half, the Musketeers jumped to a 10-point lead on a Bluiett 3-pointer with 15:41 remaining, sparking a 3-point barrage for the Musketeers in the second half.

Junior forward Kaiser Gates nailed a 3 to give the Musketeers a 48-35 lead at the 14:31 mark, then drained another trey with two minutes later to bring the score to 53-40.

Xavier built an 18-point lead after Bluiett drilled a corner 3 in the face of a defender, bringing the score to 64-46 with 9:04 left.

The Musketeers ramped up the defensive pressure in the final 10 minutes.

Simon said there was no answer for Xavier’s ferocious defensive pressure down the stretch.

“I’m not sure what adjustments they made, but they definitely stepped up their defense,” Simon said.

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.

Run TMC is alive and well

A white hat with three big red letters on the front was brought to the post-game conference table by the St. John Red Storm’s leading scorer Shamorie Ponds following their win over the Georgetown Hoyas March 7 at Madison Square Garden.

What did the letters read? TMC.

Run-and-gun. Fast paced. The Big Three, better known as Run TMC. The high tempo offense of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin is still alive.

Head Coach Mullin, and Assistant Coach Richmond of the St. John’s Red Storm, defeated the Georgetown Hoyas in the last episode of their 2018 trilogy in the first round of the Big East Tournament 88-77.

Run TMC was a two-year triumph of the three players who took a depressed Golden State Warriors team to the playoffs after an almost nine-year drought and two losses in the Western Conference Semifinals. In the last year of the Run TMC folklore, they upset the No. 2 seeded San Antonio Spurs.

And here we are in 2018, with the M and the C of the abbreviation as coaches facing a higher seeded team, and they lead a team to victory in the first round of the post-season tournament.

The Red Storm had five players in double digits, with a team total of 13 assists and 10 turnovers. Ponds had 26, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II had 16, Tariq Owens had 13, and Bashir Ahmed had 10.

“Gotta support my coaches man,” said Ponds of his hat. “If it’s them, it’s us so.”

Ponds returned to the team after missing the last two games with an abdominal strain. He averages 21.6 points per game.

“When we practice, a lot of our sets have multiple options,” Mullin said. “Justin and Shamorie did a great job with that all year.

Late in the first half, Simon slipped off a screen to the rim for an alley-oop setup by Bashir Ahmed. On the next possession Simon found Tariq Owens for another one. Simon finished with 16 points and team high of six assists.

“That (alley-oop) definitely gave the team a little spark,” said Simon. “But, like coach said, when we picked up our defense we went on a little run.”

Each player on the team had at least one steal. Simon, Ahmed and Owens all had two steals totaling the Hoyas game high of 18 turnovers.

St. John’s plays the No. 1 seeded Xavier Musketeers at noon March 8. And this is exactly the type of challenge that will fuel the MC-coached offense.