St. John’s dominates offensively and Xavier again struggles shooting the ball
By Joe Clark, Sports page editor
Xavier was flat out terrible defensively, and the Musketeers didn’t do enough on offense in the second half to make up for it. Junior big man Jack Nunge led the Musketeers with 22 points, while senior forward Julian Champagnie paced the Red Storm with 27 points.
“Our defense stunk,” Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele said. “Stunk. From the very beginning of the game to the very end. That’s gotta change. And I’m gonna find five guys out there that can defend.”
Xavier’s defensive effort to start the game was lackadaisical, allowing St. John’s to shoot 6-9 and giving up eight early points to Champagnie — one of the better players in the Big East — as the Red Storm raced out to an early 15-9 lead.
Eight straight points by senior guard Adam Kunkel capped off a 10-0 Xavier run and gave the Musketeers a 19-17 lead with 12:13 to go in the first half. Xavier then had a stretch with three turnovers in two minutes to allow St. John’s to take a seven-point lead with 9:13 left in the first half.
With 3:19 to go in the first half, Xavier trailed 38-37. Nunge led the Musketeers with 11 points. St. John’s guard Montez Mathis got assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk, and Xavier made the technical free throw but couldn’t score on the possession. Champagnie answered with a corner three and St. John’s led 45-38 with over a minute to go in the first half.
At the half, St. John’s led 45-42 in what was one of Xavier’s worst defensive halves of the season. The 45 points allowed were the most Xavier had given up in a half all season.
With 11:52 left in the game, Xavier took a 57-56 lead on a transition dunk by senior guard Paul Scruggs. St. John’s went up by six with just over eight minutes left, but Scruggs answered with a three and with 7:22 left, Xavier trailed 63-60.
St. John’s extended its lead to 70-62 with 5:20 left in the second half, and things started to get desperate for Xavier. It was all but over when St. John’s took a 14-point lead on a Champagnie bucket with 2:42 to go.
Ultimately, the Red Storm closed out Xavier with an 86-73 win. St. John’s finished by making nine of their last ten shots.
“I didn’t think we handled adversity well enough tonight, and I thought that honestly was the determining factor in the game,” Steele said.
Xavier shot 1-12 from three in the second half and 4-20 overall. Senior guard Nate Johnson did miss the game with a knee injury, but Xavier can’t afford to struggle as much as they have beyond the perimeter.
“Credit to St. John’s. They wanted it more than us,” Nunge said. “We didn’t play like we should have.”
The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for the Musketeers, who dropped to 17-8 with the loss.
They hit the road to take on the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday before traveling to Providence, R.I. and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center to play the No. 8 Providence Friars next Wednesday.