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St. John's loss to Xavier damages NCAA Tournament hopes

St Johns D'Angelo Harrison tries to get

St Johns D'Angelo Harrison tries to get around a defender in the second half of a game against Xavier at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 25, 2014. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Everything caught up with St. John's Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden -- the pressure of fighting back from their 0-5 start in Big East play, personal turmoil faced by Rysheed Jordan and Orlando Sanchez in the past week and, most of all, pressure from a Xavier defense that held leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison to four points.

The Musketeers (19-9, 9-6 Big East) took the Red Storm (18-11, 8-8) out of its offense at one end and dominated in the paint at the other end on their way to a 65-53 victory and a sweep of the season series. As a result, St. John's spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble became a whole lot more precarious.

Jordan's status was uncertain, but he returned from Philadelphia, where he attended the viewing on Monday of a close relative who was shot to death at home last Saturday while the Red Storm was playing Villanova. Jamal Branch started in his place.

Orlando Sanchez, who missed the Villanova game to be with his wife in Providence, R.I., after the birth of their baby daughter, also returned and came off the bench to score 11 first-half points, but he was shut out in the second half.

"There was a lot going on with the team -- Orlando with his baby and Rysheed with his family," guard Phil Greene said. "It was the biggest game of the year, and we came out flat."

Coach Steve Lavin called it the "most unusual week of my career, but it shouldn't affect post defense."

He was referring to the fact that Xavier center Matt Stainbrook, who had 13 points, dominated inside early before getting into foul trouble, and Musketeers reserve Jalen Reynolds came off the bench to post career highs with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

Xavier outscored St, John's in the paint 38-22.

St. John's put a nose in front early in the second half when Jordan dunked for a 34-32 lead. But then Xavier went on a 17-5 run to take control at 49-39. Reynolds had seven points in that stretch, and the Musketeers' defense held the Red Storm to three scores in 18 possessions, forcing seven turnovers and 2-for-14 shooting.

"We had zero fast-break points," Lavin said. "That indicates a lack of defense because we were not getting the ball off the glass . . . Xavier was able to get point-blank shots at the rim, high-percentage looks from beginning to end. We were disappointed at the lack of resistance in the paint."

Semaj Christon was effective for Xavier with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Isaiah Philmore added 11 points.

JaKarr Sampson led the Red Storm with 14 points, and Jordan added 11 to match Sanchez. Harrison was held to 1-for-11 shooting, including 0-for-5 from three-point range, and St. John's was 2-for-16 overall from beyond the arc.

"Our defense was exceptional," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "We did a great job of eliminating transition opportunities. Jalen Reynolds was a monster. He was the best big man on the floor."

Looking ahead to the final two regular-season games, Greene said, "Every game is like a championship game. We have a lot of basketball left, and we're going to be prepared so we can make the NCAA tourney."


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