Xavier's D too much for distracted Johnnies

By Jason Schott

Xavier came into Madison Square Garden and got the upset against the surging St. John's Red Storm, 65-53 on Tuesday night. 

The Xavier defense was superb, especially in the second half, where they held St. John's to 32 percent shooting. St. John's shot just 36 percent for the game, mainly because they had issues scoring inside.

It was a pretty tight game in the first half, which resulted in a Xavier 31-30 lead at the break. Towards the end, tensions reached a fever pitch and there was a scuffle between St. John's Rysheed Jordan and Semaj Christon, with each receiving technicals.

As a result, before the second half, there was something I and probably others had never seen before. Each team was brought to half court by the referees. Semaj said after the game that the referees told them to cool it, that it's a nationally televised game (on FOX Sports 1), and that they didn't want to give out any more technical fouls.

The second half was all Xavier, as they opened up a 49-39 lead on a Jalen Reynolds three-point play with 7:18 remaining. The Red Storm got back into it, cutting it to 55-51 with 2:38 left on a JaKarr Sampson jumper that had the crowd of 6,707 sound like a lot more than that.

Xavier put the game away at the free throw line, making eight free throws in the final 1:20 to pull away.

Xavier was led by Jalen Reynolds, who had 17 points (7-13 FG) and 16 rebounds. Entering this one, Reynolds averaged 3.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Semaj Christon had 15 points and 6 assists. Along with Reynolds, they got a lot of production out of their frontcourt, with Matt Stainbrook scoring 13 and Isaiah Philmore chipping in 11.

Christon said of Reynolds, "He played like a monster today. We needed that. Matt Stainbrook got in foul trouble and (Reynolds) came in and stepped up for us and he helped us out a lot. I think we all expect that from Jalen."

Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said of the win, "It's really hard to win in this league on the road. We had great respect coming in for St. John's, especially the way they've been playing here as of late. They are as talented as anybody in our league. I thought our defense was exceptional tonight; it needed to be. We did a great job for the most part eliminating their transition opportunities and keeping them off the glass as best we could. They still got 14 offensive rebounds.

Mack said of Reynolds, "For us, I thought we had good play all around, but obviously Jalen Reynolds was a monster tonight. He was the best big on the floor. You got a freshman out there getting 17 points and 16 rebounds. We know he's capable of it, he's got a lot to learn, but he played very well for us tonight."

St. John's was dealing with a lot of distractions heading into the game, with Orlando Sanchez's wife giving birth to a baby girl on Friday and a family member of Rysheed Jordan was murdered over the weekend in Philadelphia. Jordan and Sanchez both played and did well under the circumstances, with each scoring 11 points.

Phil Greene IV said of the off-the-court issues and if it produced a disconnect, "There was a lot going on with this team, with Orlando and his baby and Rysheed and his family. It's just a lot, but there's no excuse, biggest game of the year, just back to defense." On how they played, Greene IV said, "Given the situation they were in, they played well, a lot of passion, you know, pride. We just came out flat...It wasn't the same team as we've been on the streak that we've been on."

The shocking stat of the night was that D'Angelo Harrison shot just 1-for-11 from the field and finished with four points. St. John's Head Coach Steve Lavin mentioned in his postgame comments that they had trouble getting any transition offense going, so I asked if that hurt Harrison, like an easy transition basket could have sparked something. Lavin said, "That's one of the important things, defense creates some easy baskets for you and offensive rebounds gets you some easy baskets. There was one sequence we had five or six shots at the rim. That offensive rebound number (14) is a little misleading, like five or six came on one possession, take that away, we had around eight. You don't know, were we pressing a little bit,  was the  disjointed week we had, those things a factor? Defense is something you can still being in terms of ball pressure. Our interior defense was not up to the standard we expect."

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