Good Stat: St. John's isn't a great shooting team. The Johnnies rank seventh in the Big East conference in 3-point percentage. The way this season has gone for X, though, it hasn't mattered how well a team or certain players shoot when they play the Musketeers, they seem to be lights out and shoot with plenty of confidence against X's typically slow 3-point defense. On Tuesday, the Muskies defended the perimeter a little bit better, and also found some luck as the Red Storm missed shots. The Johnnies finished just 2-of-16 from beyond the arc, which is the fewest threes given up by the Musketeers since Tennessee made 2-of-14 against them back on November 29 in Atlantis.
Bad Stat: While the Musketeers' performance Tuesday night was exponentially better than the display they put forth on Saturday in the nation's capital, they still struggled with one of their main focuses entering the St. John's game. They turned the ball over 15 times, which led to 14 points for the Johnnies. Fortunately for X, St. John's returned the favor by turning it over 12 times, and the Muskies converted those into 12 points.
Reynolds Breaks Out: It was only a matter of time before Jalen Reynolds broke out and had a monster performance. Tuesday night that performance came at the best possible time for both Reynolds and the Musketeers. There were multiple factors that indicated Reynolds may be a big part of the game plan against St. John's, and that certainly proved to be the case. He matches up well against the Red Storm's versatile and athletic frontcourt, and he showed that by scoring four points and grabbing two boards in just five minutes in the first meeting at the Cintas Center. Reynolds is also by far the best answer the Musketeers have for talented forward Jakarr Sampson, because he can match-up physically with his athleticism and face-up ability, plus he played against him everyday at Brewster two years ago. All of that combined with Reynolds' recent on-court success pointed to him seeing an increased role in this game, but not many expected him to be the best player on the court with a game-high 17 points and 16 boards in 29 minutes of action. He spent much of his game dueling with his former high school teammate, and ended up outplaying him, as Sampson finished with 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks. Reynolds' road has been an interesting one at Xavier. After sitting out and having to pay his own way last year as a non-qualifying freshman, he came in and immediately looked like a difference-maker during summer workouts and preseason practices. As the season drew near and then non-conference play started, James Farr came on strong and began earning more unexpected minutes in the post rotation. Farr's success coincided with Reynolds showing his inexperience. While Farr was giving the team an early boost on offense with his 3-point shooting, Reynolds was blowing assignments on defense, picking up two fouls in one minute, fumbling the ball around or letting his emotions get the best of him. When he finally started to earn some minutes in Big East play following that first St. John's game, he was then indefinitely suspended from the team for about a week. Since he was reinstated, his progress has seemed accelerated. He's starting to really figure it out on both ends, and the best is yet to come. Him understanding certain parts of the defense better and just becoming more comfortable is finally allowing him to stay on the court. He's not getting in foul trouble, and the coaching staff trusts him. This was the first game where it felt like Mack and the staff gave him a "starter's role" and recognized him as the second best big man on the team to compliment Stainbrook. He responded with a dominant performance in a must-win game at Madison Square Garden. It's safe to say we'll only be seeing more of Reynolds as we head into the postseason.
Energy Level Improves in Balanced Win: St. John's is a scary team to prepare for because they have so many talented players that are capable of winning one-on-one match-ups. This combined with the lack of actual structure within their system makes it tough to game plan for and stop the Johnnies' offense when they are playing well. That great individual talent on their roster makes it even more interesting that Xavier has now beat them twice with two of their most balanced performances of the season. In the game at Cintas, Christon really got his teammates involved early by attacking and passing against the 3-2 zone. On Tuesday night, the Musketeers had great ball movement (17 assists on 24 field goals) against St. John's mostly man-to-man defense, and different guys stepped up to hit big shots at crucial moments in the game for X. Even as early as Matt Stainbrook's back-to-back buckets in the post coming out of the first media timeout to answer St. John's 4-0 run that put X back in the lead 10-6, the Musketeers just found a way to come up with points when they needed them most -- something that hasn't happened for them on the road this season. After they lost their early lead and Stainbrook picked up his third foul around the 6:00 mark, a pair of free-throws brought them back within a point, and then Reynolds hit a face-up jumper to give them the lead back -- a lead they would hold the rest of the half. With 17:23 to play in the second half, Martin made his only contribution of the game, but it was a big one as he nailed a corner three to break a 34-34 tie and put his team ahead for good. The offense struggled through several minutes in the middle of the second half, but Dee Davis nailed a 3-pointer late in the shot clock with 11:43 to play to push X's lead to two possessions 42-38. There were other big baskets and plays that kept the lead in tact, but those were the ones that stood out the most. Dee Davis responded after the horrible Georgetown game with a solid performance in this one. He had nine assists, a few of which were spectacular, made that huge three in the second half, and most importantly locked up D'Angelo Harrison for just four points on 1-of-11 shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range. His backcourt-mate had a lot more energy in this one. Christon added seven rebounds to go with his 15 points, and it wasn't just him chasing down loose balls. He put his nose in there, and it ended up being important, especially with as many minutes as they played a lineup that included three guards with Myles Davis and Dee Davis alongside him. He also dished out six assists, and a few of them were exceptional passes. When he drove into the lane after using a ball-screen, St. John's shot-blockers really collapsed hard on him which freed his teammates on the block, particularly Philmore. Speaking of Philmore, he wasn't strong enough with the ball at times and he had a few shots blocked, but he did finish off some big baskets late in the game to help the Musketeers keep their lead in tact. He had 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting with five rebounds in 24 minutes. Stainbrook had his way inside in the early going as he scored eight of the team's first 10 points. He then got into foul trouble and wasn't able to stay on the court much the rest of the game. He finished with 13 points and one rebound in 16 minutes, which makes it even more impressive that X held a 39-34 advantage on the glass. Xavier's defense finally looked like the tough, tight defense that really defends ball screens well. Part of it was definitely the fact that Reynolds was on the court more often than not, which gave them more athleticism and mobility in the post, but the rest of the lineup also provided a lot more energy. They were in the gaps, jumping to the ball, closing out quicker, moving on the pass, and playing really, really hard. Myles Davis even made a defensive contribution with two steals. This wasn't a perfect effort by any means, but this group doesn't have to be perfect. They do have to play hard and with great energy as a team. Tuesday night they did that.
Takeaway: After the debacle at Georgetown, it was hard to see this team going on the road to Madison Square Garden and pulling off a needed quality road win. In fact, it was more a situation where most were probably just looking for signs of life to see if this team even had a chance to win any of its last three games. The Musketeers came out and impressed by beating a St. John's team that has been playing really well of late. After looking like the season may be on life support, X is now in great shape needing one win against Creighton, Seton Hall or Villanova to feel really good about their at-large bid, regardless of what happens in the Big East tournament. The Musketeers have also put themselves in a spot where they can start thinking about seeding at this point. With two games left against top 10 opponents and a possible third in the conference tournament, they have a chance to improve their seed line if they're able to pull off an upset or two.