No. 6 Xavier turns back skidding St. John's

By Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 4, 2016 at 1:10 AM
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CINCINNATI -- Having an off-night in the rigorous Big East can often spell defeat, even for a team as talented as Xavier.

The sixth-ranked Musketeers were challenged by last-place St. John's on Wednesday night but managed to avoid the upset.

Trevon Bluiett posted his fifth double-double this season and guard Myles Davis scored all of his team-leading 16 points in the second half, helping Xavier fend off St. John's 90-83 at Cintas Center.

Bluiett, a sophomore guard, had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Xavier (20-2, 8-2 Big East), which overcame 15 turnovers and poor early shooting to reach 20 wins on the earliest calendar date in school history.

The Musketeers also became the first of 351 Division I teams to win 20 games this season.

"We've got some positive feelings about the game, and some negative feelings," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "I told our guys in the locker room ... to be the first team (to 20 wins) means we're doing something right."

Balance again was key for Xavier, which had five players in double figures, including guard J.P. Macura with 12 points, forward James Farr with 11 and guard Edmond Sumner with 10.

"At the end of the day, a win's a win," Davis said. "Our defense wasn't there for 40 minutes. (St. John's) plays hard. They took us out of our flow."

Guard Felix Balamou did most of the damage for St. John's, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the first half and finishing 8 of 12 from the field.

"More than anyone else, Felix hurt us," Mack said. "We didn't do a good enough job containing his penetration."

Guard Durand Johnson had 18 points and freshman forward Kassoum Yakwe added 14 for the Red Storm (7-16, 0-10), which led by as many as four points in the second half, but it wasn't enough to prevent a 13th straight loss.

Despite the Red Storm owning the nation's longest losing streak, coach Chris Mullin was encouraged by the performance.

"That was a winning performance I saw tonight," Mullin said. "We didn't shoot the ball well ... but I couldn't be more proud of our team. Xavier is one of the best teams in the country. As far as my team, we played winning basketball."

Xavier led 38-36 at halftime before St. John's stormed back.

After going 1 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half, the Red Storm hit two straight to begin the second half to go ahead 42-38. They finished 6 of 20 from beyond the arc.

Xavier turnovers kept St. John's in the game, but Macura provided a spark late in the second half when he grabbed several key offensive rebounds and hits a 3-pointer to give the Musketeers a 59-54 lead.

"The energy he provided really helped us," Mack said. "Over the last three games, he's given us consistent play."

Bluiett's step-back jumper gave the Musketeers their largest lead at 74-65 with less than five minutes left.

St. John's got within five points with 2:28 left, but Xavier held on.

The Red Storm gave the Musketeers fits in their previous meeting, rallying from a 12-point deficit to make it a one-point game before losing by eight. They again made things difficult for Xavier.

It didn't help matters when Reynolds picked up two fouls in the first 40 seconds of the game before finishing with nine points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. But others stepped up for the Musketeers.

After outshooting its opponent from 3-point range in four of the past seven games, St. John's was cold from beyond the arc, going 0 of 7 before Johnson hit a 3-pointer just before halftime.

Bluiett's 3-pointer late in the first half gave Xavier its largest lead at 36-29. But St. John's fought back to trail by only two at halftime.

"That's what happens in the Big East," Mack said. "We ran into a team that played hard for 40 minutes. They kept the game close."

Ultimately, the Red Storm's upset bid fell short, partly because of 14 turnovers and allowing Xavier to score 22 second-chance points.

Mullin was asked how his team can recover from yet another loss, despite pushing the nation's sixth-ranked team to the brink.

"There's no other option," he said.

NOTES: The 13-game losing streak for St. John's is tied with Delaware for the nation's longest active skid. The Red Storm's last victory came Dec. 13 against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. ... Xavier F James Farr returned to action after leaving Saturday's game at DePaul in the second half with a leg injury. ... Xavier sophomore F Trevon Bluiett was named one of 10 finalists for the Julius Erving Award given annually to the nation's top small forward. ... St. John's changed its starting lineup five times in the past seven games in an effort to jump-start things.

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