St. John’s melts down late in loss to Xavier

The game was right there, begging to be taken.

Xavier couldn’t shoot straight. The Musketeers’ two stars, Paul Scruggs and Zach Freemantle, were struggling. The Red Storm held a four-point lead more than halfway through the second half.

Then, it all fell apart. The Johnnies began throwing the ball away. Their defense, so strong for the game’s first 30 minutes, regressed.

Xavier scored 16 of the next 17 points, turning a close game into a comfortable 69-61 victory Wednesday night in Cincinnati. It was the Musketeers’ 12th straight victory over the Red Storm.

“We were right and we had one of those lulls where we couldn’t score,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “We had a rash of turnovers at the wrong time and they went to a zone, and I didn’t think we did a good job of attacking.”

After 17 days off, St. John’s returned to a familiar result: A loss on the road. The Red Storm dropped to 6-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big East, with a trip to Omaha, Neb., to face No. 7 Creighton looming Saturday afternoon.

After Rasheem Dunn’s layup with 10:02 left gave the Red Storm a 49-46 lead, St. John’s managed just a single Dylan Addae-Wusu free throw until Julian Champagnie’s layup with 3:03 to go. In that span, the Red Storm missed six straight shots, committed five turnovers and missed three free throws. By then, with Xavier (9-2, 2-2) up 63-54, the game was out of reach though the Musketeers had failed to hit a 3-pointer in 12 attempts and had missed 13 free throws.

Marcellus Earlington goes up for a reverse layup during St. John's loss.
Marcellus Earlington goes up for a reverse layup during St. John’s loss.
Paul J. Bereswill

“I don’t think [they] did anything in particular. It was all on us,” said Dunn, who scored a team-high 17 points, faulting St. John’s for its defensive letdown and poor shooting. “We struggled as far as not knocking down 3-point shots we usually knock down.”

The game ultimately was lost on the offensive end, where the Johnnies shot 35 percent from the field, and on the defensive glass, where Xavier corralled 16 offensive rebounds. Leading scorers Champagnie and Greg Williams Jr. shot a combined 7 of 26, and as a team, the Johnnies made just 8 of 15 attempts from the free-throw line.

With Scruggs and Freemantle off target, freshman Colby Jones led Xavier with 16 points, 13 above his average, and Jason Carter had 11 points and 16 rebounds, keying the Musketeers’ 57-40 edge on the boards. All those offensive rebounds led to a 34-15 advantage in free-throw attempts and created foul trouble for St. John’s.

“We had enough guys out there that should’ve been rebounding,” Anderson said. “They physically got after us and that was the difference in the game.”

Despite all that went wrong in the final 10 minutes, and trailing by 12 with 3:30 left, St. John’s had a chance late. The Red Storm were within six and had possession near the two-minute mark. But fittingly, Williams was stripped in the lane, and Scruggs finished an alley-oop slam on the other end, sealing the frustrating defeat.

“We were right there in the game, and it just wasn’t lined up for us tonight,” Anderson said.

Before the game, St. John’s announced rarely used reserve wing David Caraher was taking a personal leave of absence from the team due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He’s back home in North Carolina with his family.

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