On a night when St. John’s shooters couldn’t throw a pebble in the ocean, the Red Storm hung tough until freshman Federico Mussini led a frenzied charge that cut a 12-point deficit to one with 2:04 left to play. But the excitable, young point guard was hit with a technical foul a few seconds later for slamming the ball when a teammate was called for a foul.
That gave Xavier four foul shots at the 1:33 mark, and the 10th-ranked Musketeers made three to take control at the end of a 74-66 victory that saw the drama sucked out of the frantic finish Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Myles Davis, who led Xavier with 19 points, made both technical foul shots, and Trevon Bluiett, who had 18 points, made one of two for a 68-64 lead. The Musketeers (14-1, 2-1 Big East), who also got 10 points and 13 rebounds from Jalen Reynolds, finished the game on a 9-2 run.
Mussini was 5 of 8 from three-point range and finished with 19 points for St. John’s (7-9, 0-3), which lost its sixth straight game. Ron Mvouika, who drew the foul call that upset Mussini had 19 points, and Durand Johnson added 12 for the Red Storm, who shot only 33.8 percent from the field. St. John’s lost shot-blocking center Yankuba Sima at halftime with a left-hand injury suffered while blocking a shot at the rim in the first half.
Asked about the technical foul, St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said, “I have not thoughts on that whatsoever.”
Mussini was unaware the call was on him until informed by the referee. “I was upset with myself,” Mussini said, “because we probably win the game [without that call].”
The Red Storm fell behind by 15 points midway through the first half, but Mvouika scored all nine of his first-half points in a 16-6 run that cut Xavier’s lead to 31-26 just before halftime. A 12-4 Xavier surge, including six points by Bluiett, pushed its lead to 47-35. The Red Storm made only two of its first 13 shots in that stretch.
But suddenly, Mussini found the range, making four of five three-point attempts during an 18-7 St. John’s run to cut the Musketeers’ lead to 65-64 on the last of those Mussini threes. “I let the game come to me,” Mussini said. “I wasn’t shooting so good at first, but when I made a three, it gave me confidence. I saw they were letting me shoot, so, I took them.”
Mullin said it was hard to believe St. John’s could stay close while shooting so poorly, but he added, “We didn’t give up. I’m really proud of my guys tonight. We had 15 offensive rebounds and got 18 more shots [than Xavier]. If we keep doing that, we’re going to get rewarded.”
On this night, it felt as if the refs whistled the Red Storm’s near-miraculous comeback to a stop, which was tough to swallow for a slumping team. “It came down to a couple plays,” Mvouika said in an emotional voice. “We kept fighting. We’re going to break through.”