TEANECK, N.J. – Early in the week Xavier ventured into Madison Square Garden and posted a 65-53 victory over St. John’s. It was a huge win for the Musketeers coming off a thorough defeat at Georgetown a few days earlier. For the home standing Red Storm, meanwhile, it was a second straight loss with the clock ticking on NCAA possibilities.
The possession numbers:
The offense, as the numbers show, was subpar, but St. John’s (8-8 Big East) problems were decidedly on the defensive end. They allowed Xavier, who advanced to 9-6 in conference, too many good looks at the rim. The defense, or lack of it, had an effect on the Red Storm offense.
“We did not get the stops necessary to generate our offense on the fast break,” said St. John’s coach Steve Lavin. Related to that concept of transition, that was as point of emphasis on the part of Xavier coach Chris Mack. “We wanted to limit their transition opportunities,” Mack noted. “We also wanted to keep them off the offensive boards, as best we could.”
Shot selection was a sore point for St. John’s. Shot-making was virtually the same as the Red Storm struggled from the field. Once again it was largely due to Xavier’s game plan. “They are gap-oriented,” Mack said. “We did not want them to go one-on-one against us. We wanted them to have to take contested twos.” Overall St. John’s shot 37 percent. Their mark from two point range was better at 20 of 44 for 46 percent. From long range, 2 of 16, and 13 percent.
Practice made for closer to perfect. This time of season teams are staying sharp with shorter fine-tuning practices. Following Saturday’s Georgetown game Mack got his team back to basics. They spent three hours on Sunday followed by another good session on Monday. They were competitive practices. “Doing things we want to do, competitive drills,” Mack said. With the accent on competing and playing hard. Judging by Tuesday night, it worked.
Getting the call. With Matt Stainbrook in foul trouble, Xavier redshirt freshman Jalen Reynolds got his chance. Normally a ten minute per game player , the 6-9 forward logged 29 minutes with 17 points and 16 rebounds (both career and game highs). What better place to enjoy an introductory breakout night than Madison Square Garden. “Reynolds is going to be a star in the Big East,” Mack predicted. Doubt if anyone who witnessed his performance would disagree.
Jakarr Sampson paced St. John’s with 14 points. Sampson, however, shot 7 of 17 from the field. It was that type of night for St. John’s.
On Thursday Robert Morris defeated FDU 64-59 at the Rothman Center. For most of the evening it appeared FDU’s Senior Night festivities would finish on a positive note. With eight minutes to play the Knights held a 12-point lead and appeared in control. Over the course of those final minutes, Robert Morris went on a 19-2 run to overtake the Knights and claim the victory.
It was not a frantic full-court press that did the trick for the Colonials. Rather it was systematic, almost methodical, possession by possession approach. “When we are sidetracked we lose focus,” said Robert Morris coach Andy Toole. “I don’t know why that happened, but those last eight minutes we regained our focus. It wasn’t so much scoring points that got us back but the little things, the details. Things as making the extra pass, helping out on defense to get the needed stop.”
Toole felt no urgency even with the clock ticking. “Eight minutes, down twelve points,” he said. “Eight minutes is a lot of time in a college game.”
It proved ample time for the Colonials to raise their NEC leading record to 14-1. The possession numbers:
The excellent defensive numbers by Robert Morris were fueled largely by those last eight minutes. Robert Morris’ zone afforded perimeter looks. The Knights took advantage early, but the second half percentages caught up as they hit just one trey the final twenty minutes. They finished 8 of 28 for a 29 percent mark.
Karvel Anderson of Robert Morris paced all with 22 points while Scooter Gillette led FDU with 14. The Colonials, as noted, improved to 14-1. FDU fell to 6-9, but there is consolation. Recent seasons have seen an end after the final regular season contest. Now, there is postseason. The Knights may have missed the mark of hosting a first round game, but being back in it is rewarding for an excellent job by Greg Herenda and co. in his first year at the school.
- Sanders on this game : “It shows how far the program has come but it also shows we need work in learning how to close out a game.”
- Toole on the NEC playoffs: “Five or six teams have a shot at winning this thing. That is how balanced the league is. In the quarterfinals alone anyone in those four games will have the ability to advance. Almost all the games this year have been closely contested.”
- John Cahill was at Madison Square Garden for the Xavier-St. John’s game. After three decades of college officiating, Cahill stepped down to become Big East Supervisor of Officials. “I miss officiating,” Cahill admitted, “but I’m enjoying this (supervision) and it allows me to stay active in the game.”
- Freshman guard Kavon Stewart of Robert Morris had quite a group on hand to see him play on Thursday. The Hudson Catholic (Jersey City, NJ) product had head coach Nick Mariniello and his staff plus family and former teammates. Stewart played 28 minutes, hitting two free throws late that ultimately gave Robert Morris the lead they maintained. Stewart stays in touch, texting and talking, to former Hudson teammate Reggie Cameron of Georgetown.