By Laura Amato
Another opportunity, another missed chance.
The St. John’s men’s basketball team rallied late, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback attempt, falling 82-77 to No. 24 Xavier at Madison Square Garden Jan. 29.
The Red Storm erased a 15-point deficit and made it a two-point game with just minutes left on the clock, but late-game fouls and missed free throws hurt the squad down the stretch.
“We were searching all night for some type of rhythm,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “We started getting downhill a little bit, getting to the paint and were in the bonus. When you shoot 5-for-23 and give up 17 offensive rebounds, that’s probably the difference in the game.”
Xavier (15-6, 5-3) struggled in the late-goings of the second half, particularly after Musketeers star Edmond Sumner hobbled to the locker room with a knee injury, but the squad found its footing with just enough time to snuff out the St. John’s rally.
The Red Storm, once again, took some time to warm up – slow to loose balls and rebounds in the first half – and St. John’s frontcourt was no match for Xavier’s big men in the post. By the final whistle, the Musketeers out-scored St. John’s 34-26 inside and out-rebounded the Red Storm 45-26.
“We really need to get better,” freshman guard Shamorie Ponds said of the team’s effort on the boards. “We’ve been getting out-rebounded lately and collectively as a group, from one to five, we need to do a better job.”
Xavier jumped out to a 59-44 lead with just under 10 minutes on the clock, but Sumner’s injury left a big-time hole in the Musketeer’s game plan and St. John’s (10-13, 4-6) seized the opportunity, clawing back into the Big East matchup.
The Red Storm made it a 68-66 game with 4:16 left, notching a 10-0 run in just over a minute of game time, as Ponds and backcourt mate Marcus LoVett hit their stride.
“Coach Mullin told us that he saw open spots,” said Ponds, who led the Storm with 23 points. “He wanted us to be aggressive and attack their close-outs. We wanted to take advantage of that.”
St. John’s could not get that final push, however, and the Musketeers rattled off eight off the game’s next 10 points.
There were plenty of bright spots throughout the game – the Red Storm forced 19 turnovers and gave up just five shots from behind the arc – but St. John’s, fresh off a Jan. 25 win at Providence, isn’t too keen on moral victories.
The Red Storm missed seven free throws in the second half and hauled in just six offensive rebounds, battling through foul trouble across the lineup.
The comeback was impressive, but the squad would have been happier with a victory.
“We aren’t as aggressive as we should be,” LoVett said. “If we were more aggressive we would have started off pretty well. I believe in my team. That was a winnable game.”