The top-seeded Xavier Musketeers came into Madison Square Garden today to take on St. John’s, who beat Georgetown yesterday. Despite the game being on the Johnnies’ home court, the crowd favored Xavier.
The Musketeers played like a one-seed as they dominated the Red Storm, 88-60. First-team All-Big East member Trevon Bluiett led the way with 27 points and 6 rebounds. Shamorie Ponds dropped in 15 points for St. John’s but struggled all game. Marvin Clark II was the high man for the Johnnies with 18 points.
Xavier Beats St. John’s in Quarterfinals, 88-60
“I thought in the first and second half we defended our tails off,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “We were able to keep Shamorie [Ponds] out of the lane, we had five steals at half so defense in the first half was key.”
Xavier will take on the winner of Creighton and Providence in the semi-finals on Thursday. Since joining the Big East, Xavier has reached the semi-finals of the conference tournament every year. The Musketeers were only able to get to the final game once – a losing effort against Villanova in 2015.
St. John’s came out riding the momentum of yesterday’s win and took an early lead over the Musketeers. Despite Ponds only scoring four points on 1-6 shooting, the team managed to hang in the game thanks to the play of guard Justin Simon. He had 14 points and three rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
As it has been all year for Xavier, when Bluiett and J.P. Macura are on, the team is at its best. They looked a step slow to start. Macura scored four quick points but then was held scoreless for the rest of the period. Bluiett was held to just nine points.
Clark II was also big for the Red Storm, scoring 12 points, including nailing two from deep. Despite their strong play and energy, Xavier was still too strong for the Johnnies in the first. St. John’s went into the locker room down 33-29.
“They’re a tough team to play under any circumstance,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said. “That’s the Big East and that’s the format. It’s been this way for years. That’s what you get for coming in ninth.”
The Musketeers shook off all the rust of the first half and were able to get it going in the second. They went on an 11-2 run to balloon the lead to 11 with 13:33 left. This run was headlined by three-pointers from Bluiett and Kaiser Gates. Just a minute later, a Macura three would give Xavier its largest lead of the game at 14.
St. John’s did its best to keep the game close but it was no use. With Ponds having an off game, this team just isn’t the same.
“It’s tough, he’ll make some contested shots,” Mack said when asked about stopping Ponds. “It starts with great communication from our [center] calling out picks and we were able to cut down his options.”
Bluiett was red hot in the second half and his play helped Xavier go on a massive run to get the lead all the way up to 21 with seven minutes left. The rest of the game, the Musketeers put it on cruise control. They went on to outscore St. John’s 55-31 in the second half. Bluiett scored 18 points in the second half to extend the lead.
“We were locked in,” Bluiett said. “We took their guards out of the game and I feel we did a great job on our game plan which was to take them out of it and we were able to get the win.”
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