St. John’s has its eyes on the prize.
The Red Storm got into the NCAA Tournament conversation with a six-game winning streak that ended last week with an overtime loss at Butler. On Tuesday night they turned up the volume on the dialogue by bouncing back to completely outplay a strong Xavier team for a 93-84 Big East win at Carnesecca Arena.
The Red Stom (14-8, 8-7) have won eight of their last 10 and now stand alone in fifth place in the Big East, where the top five in the standings get byes into the conference tournament quarterfinals. St. John’s had lost 12 straight against Xavier (11-4, 4-4) dating to the 2014-15 season. Second-year coach Mike Anderson now has 400 career victories in 19 seasons as a head coach.
Asked about the dividends a win like this could pay come NCAA selection time, Anderson said: "This is the time of year, in February, where you come at these games. We want to remember them in the right way. Coming out on the right side of the ledger . . . As of right now, if you look at our schedule, it’s a four-game season."
Marcellus Earlington was asked about the Storm’s NCAA chances and said: "This was our goal. We know how good we can be . . .We’re not surprised. We’re playing hard and we like playing together."
Posh Alexander shook off a substandard performance in the Butler loss and an unproductive first half against Xavier and was the Storm’s best player in the final 20 minutes, helping them extend an eight-point halftime lead to 13 by scoring seven of their first nine points after the break and then helped St. John’s keep the Musketeers at arm’s length the rest of the way. Xavier never got closer than six points in the second half.
Alexander had 13 of his 15 points in the second half and also finished with nine assists, eight rebounds and no turnovers.
Julian Champagnie led five Storm players in double figures with 21 points. Rasheem Dunn had 17 points, Earlington had 16 points, including a career-high four three-pointers and Isaih Moore added 11 points, which featured four electrifying dunks.
"Posh was great today, fighting for loose balls and making big plays," Earlington said. "We told him he was the energy bug and as he goes, we go."
"Posh, I was proud of him," Anderson said. "He didn’t shoot the ball well and got frustrated [last week]. He could have been in the first half, but he stayed with it."
Zach Freemantle had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Colby Jones had 20 points for the Musketeers.
The win assures Anderson of a 19th straight season without a losing record. He is one of only four coaches who has never had a losing season with more than 15 years as a head coach, joining Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Arizona’s Sean Miller. They include four seasons, beginning in 2002-03, at UAB, five at Missouri, eight at Arkansas and now two with the Red Storm.
"I never thought I’d be in this place," Anderson said. "I’m blessed. I’m grateful for all who took a chance on me . . . But this team is having a special season and we don’t want it to stop now."