Xavier made a big stand in the Big Apple on Monday night, taking St. John’s to the final seconds in a 77-74 victory.
In the process, the Musketeers improved their winning streak against the Red Storm to 11 games while maintaining their unblemished record (16-0) this season when leading at the break.
The Musketeers emerged victorious, but they can still can clean up the miscues from their play.
“Any time you can get a road win in this league, it’s great for us,” head coach Travis Steele said after the game. “We’re very fortunate … we did not play well, and St. John’s had a lot to do with that.”
Here are some takeaways from Xavier’s latest tilt, which brought it to 17-9 overall and 6-7 in the Big East Conference.
Keeping up with the pace
Xavier faced a much different style of play than it is accustomed to by playing against St. John’s fast-paced offense.
Recently, the Musketeers have dealt with teams pressing them and switching between defenses but St. John’s presented them with an offensive challenge.
Not only did the Red Storm apply heavy pressure with a press, but they also ran the floor well. In total, St. John’s scored 22 fast break points.
“They imposed their will on the game,” Steele said. “I thought we played to their style, which is their advantage.”
If there was one major pitfall in the Musketeers’ offense Monday night, it was their turnovers. Xavier surrendered a season-high 22 giveaways.
“They turned us over several times,” Steele said. “Any time you win on the road with 22 turnovers, man, I’m shocked. We should feel very fortunate that we came away with a win.”
Steele, however, applauded the team’s ability to never give in and keep fighting to the end.
“I was proud about how our guys stuck together,” he said. “Our guys stuck together and finished the right way.”
Steele felt that the team got the ball swiped away from them when they shouldn’t have.
“I just remember (St. John’s) stealing the ball from our guys, taking it right out of our guy’s hands — that can’t happen,” he said. “This is Big East basketball. It’s a man’s game, it’s a physical game in there. We gotta be a heck of a lot better … We gotta clean up the turnover situation, that’s for sure.”
Junior forward Naji Marshall provided firepower in the second half, fearlessly taking the ball to the rim. His 15 points and 11 rebounds factored greatly into the win.
“We gotta get him going,” Steele said. “He’s gotta be aggressive at all times for us … He’s gotta be a playmaker for us, not just a scorer. Our team needs him to do that.”
Down to the wire
Xavier needed a clutch game-winner with possession of the ball and trailing by one point with 40 seconds left.
With an extra opportunity to claim the lead, freshman forward Zach Freemantle put the Musketeers ahead on a layup with 10 ticks on the clock and effectively iced the game by knocking down a pair of throws.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Steele said. “He was so excited to play in Madison Square Garden … You could tell he was a little nervous, and then he played terrific the rest of the game … His progression has changed our team.”
Freemantle has continued to impress the coaching staff in his first season as a Musketeer, and he has appeared to have solidified his starting role with his play. Additionally, Steele voiced his belief that he will develop into a double-figure scorer for the team.