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Xavier frustrates St. John’s in crucial resume game

Feb 25, 2014, 9:47 PM EDT

Chris Mack AP

There hasn’t been a hotter team in Big East play since late January than St. John’s. Steve Lavin’s squad was both clicking on defense (forcing countless steals) and on offense (consistently converting from two-point range), and the team looked like an shoo-in for an NCAA tournament bid. However, it appears the Red Storm has reverted to the mean: after a loss to Villanova this weekend, Xavier (19-9, 9-7), thanks to the best game of forward Jalen Reynolds’ career, defeated the Johnnies, now 18-11 (and 8-8 in conference play).

The 6-foot-9 Reynolds was suspended by coach Chris Mack in late January, and missed two games while ‘dealing with responsibilities greater than basketball‘. Since he returned to the floor, Reynolds has been solid, but no one could have predicted his outburst tonight: the big scored 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, completely beasting SJU’s frontcourt and single-handedly dominating the Red Storm in the paint. Like the Villanova loss, though, St. John’s was within single-digits for most of the game, but could not find any sort of offensive rhythm: the team scored just .80 points per possession and converted 47 percent of their twos. In their first match-up, Xavier was content to pack the paint and let SJU try their luck from mid-range — the Red Storm has never met an 18 footer they didn’t want to take — and the Musketeers benefited again from this strategy. Phil Greene IV and D’Angelo Harrison shot a combined 2 for 16, and six of JaKarr Sampson’s 17 field goal attempts were mid-range misses.

This was an important game for both teams: St. John’s will now have to win out their remaining slate, which includes games against DePaul and Marquette, and reach at least the semifinals of the Big East tournament to get a bid for NCAAs (and even that prognostication might be too generous). What is more likely is that the Red Storm will crack the NIT field, a disappointing result for a team that faced such great expectations during the preseason. This win greatly boosted Xavier’s at-large chances: Mack’s squad likely still has to beat Seton Hall and split their upcoming Creighton and Villanova contests, but XU’s path to the postseason became a bit clearer.