St. John's Scoring: D'Angelo Harrison 21, Rysheed Jordan 17, Jakarr Sampson 10, Phil Greene IV 5, Orlando Sanchez 5, Sir'Dominic Pointer 2
Key Performance: This ever important honor could be given to four or five different guys. Xavier truly had a balanced team effort in Tuesday afternoon's win. Semaj Christon might have had the best all-around performance, but it was Crosstown Shootout hero Justin Martin that played the most impactful stretch of basketball for either team. The Musketeers went on a 13-0 run over the first five minutes of the second half, with Martin scoring nine of those 13 points. After Christon tied the game up at 29-29 just 35 seconds into the half, Martin canned a three on Xavier's next possession to give the Musketeers their first lead. He followed that up with an offensive rebound and a tip-in, and then a steal and breakaway layup on consecutive possessions. Martin's layup with 15:31 to play capped the 13-0 run, and extended his teams' lead to double-digits, 40-29. He continued his aggressive play, drawing a foul and sinking two more free-throws a few minutes later, plus he crashed the glass on both ends consistently. Martin finished with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range. He had six boards, one block, one steal and only one turnover. That 13-0 run fueled by Martin's play to start the second half was the decisive stretch in the basketball game.
Good Stat: The most impressive stat in the boxscore from this game is Xavier's 17 assists on 25 baskets. The Musketeers' offensive execution and flow was as good on Tuesday afternoon as it's been all season. Xavier was able to force St. John's out of it's zone defense, not by making jump-shots, but by driving the creases and making good passes or finding cutters in the gaps of the zone. Xavier was patient and unselfish for the majority of the game. Even when the Musketeers were missing shot after shot to start the game, they were getting great looks and moving the ball well. Christon showed how special he can be as a playmaker for his teammates, finishing with eight assists and no turnovers.
Bad Stat: It's pretty obvious when looking at this game that Xavier's 0-for-11 start from the field set them back a bit. By the end of the second four-minute war, the Musketeers trailed 11-2 and were just 1-for-13 from the field. From that point forward, X outscored St. John's 25-18 to make it just a two-point game at halftime, 29-27. X ended up finishing the half 12-of-33 from the field (36.4 %) in the half. The Musketeers deserve credit for controlling the factors that they could, though. They only turned the ball over three times in the first half while they were going through those offensive struggles, which led to just two points for St. John's. The Red Storm only scored six fast break points total in the first half, so Xavier's offensive execution and patience in looking for good shots kept St. John's from running up a big lead early during the Musketeers' epic offensive drought. The Musketeers also played some fantastic defense and packed it in against an extremely athletic St. John's team. They did a good job of limiting the damage, which allowed them to come back fairly quickly. Making a habit of shooting that poorly wouldn't be advised heading further into Big East play, though. A 10 minute stretch like that against Creighton or Villanova may be a 20-point deficit or worse.
X Shows Balance and Confidence on Offense: Isaiah Philmore nailed it in the postgame press conference when he told the media that "everybody has their roles, and everybody's doing them… That's the reason we've gone on our winning streak." Maybe it started with the shooting success in the Cincinnati game, or maybe it's just a product of getting more familiar with one another, but every player in a Xavier jersey seems to be comfortable with their role/spot/job/abilities in this offense right now. From Semaj Christon who played 38 minutes to Jalen Reynolds who played just five, everybody look focused when they came into the game and were ready to take a good shot when the opportunity presented itself. And just about everybody was successful too, save for Myles Davis who just had an off night, going 0-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 from beyond the arc on a couple of good looks. Coach Mack and the rest of the staff deserves a lot of credit for the way that this team has come together, especially following the collapse in the Bahamas. In years past, we've seen Xavier teams struggle to regain the necessary confidence and direction after they've suffered early setbacks in the non-conference schedule. This team has continued to face adversity following the Bahamas, whether it be the 0-for-11 start against St. John's or the 26 point first half at Alabama, but they've figured out ways to battle through it and right the ship. They don't fold under the pressure, or hit the panic button when they get in tight situations. The team is playing for each other, and they have complete trust in one another. That's leading to some great ball movement on the offensive end, which has led to more consistent production from the role players other than just Stainbrook and Christon. On Tuesday, Xavier had all five starters score nine or more points. That balance and unselfishness made it hard for St. John's to defend the Musketeers regardless of whether the Red Storm played a zone or man-to-man.
Xavier Builds Fence Around the Lane: The Musketeers didn't own the paint. They didn't completely dominate on the glass. But on the defensive end, they took care of their most important task by eliminating all driving lanes and preventing easy buckets at the rim for St. John's athletic slashers. The scouting report says to make the Johnnies beat you with their outside shooting, and while they surprisingly hit 7-of-14 threes, the Musketeers kept it extremely tight and stayed active in the gaps to completely stifle their dribble-drive offense. St. John's made just 14-of-58 (24.1%) of its 2-point attempts for the game as Xavier built a wall around the lane and contested everything. Star guard D'Angelo Harrison scored his 21 points by hitting 4-of-5 threes, but Dee Davis did an excellent job on him and forced him to settle for tough shots on a 7-of-20 shooting night. The Musketeers did give up 18 offensive boards, in part because St. John's was creating some long rebounds with all of the wild jumpers, but they were at least physical in the paint and won the overall battle of the boards 45-38. They did a great job of contesting shots inside without fouling; Stainbrook finished with three blocks, and Farr and Christon both had two. The steady and intense play by Stainbrook, Philmore and Martin in the frontcourt combined with Dee Davis and Brandon Randolph's strong on the ball defense has really allowed Christon to shine as a playmaker that gets deflections, steals and weakside blocks. This team's approach, togetherness and personnel give them the ability to be one of Mack's best defensive squads.
Quotable: "When Semaj got saddled with foul trouble against UC, I think it really opened his eyes to an unbelievable confidence that he feels in his teammates. I don't feel he forces much anymore. We want him to attack in transition. I think he really feels a confidence in Isaiah Philmore, James Farr and certainly Matt Stainbrook. Our guys are playing extremely well together." - Chris Mack on Semaj Christon's evolving role.
Takeaway: Each of the last four wins have seemed big for a different reason. This one was impressive because of the way X overcame the comically bad shooting start. For this team to finally begin Big East play in front of a packed home crowd and then go out there and miss every shot they take for a solid eight plus minutes, would seem pretty demoralizing. But for some reason this team is past that point. They aren't hitting the panic button anymore. There's a lack of ego, a focus on getting the job done, and a mutual confidence in one another that's creating a winning culture in the locker room right now for this Xavier team. The first win in the Big East was a nice statement for the Muskies on national TV, even after an embarrassing start.