In a season in which so much has gone so wrong, St. John’s might have suffered the unkindest cut of all Tuesday night.
The Red Storm took sixth-ranked Xavier into the final minute at Carnesecca Arena and again came up just short, suffering a 73-68 Big East loss before an enthused crowd of 5,344. It was St. John’s 11th straight defeat and the eighth time in the skid that the difference was seven points or fewer. The Storm (10-13, 0-11) hasn’t won since Dec. 20 and its next two games are against No. 4 Duke and No. 1 Villanova.
“It’s been somewhat like ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said of the spate of near-misses.
“They’re going to beat some teams,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I’m glad we don’t play a third time in the regular season.” Then he added, shaking his head, “That’s the best 0-11 team I’ve ever seen anywhere in a conference.”
The Storm watched a four-point lead with less than eight minutes to play evaporate into a five-point deficit but gathered itself and made a comeback. Marvin Clark II drained a three-pointer with 2:08 to play to tie the game at 67-67 and followed that with a steal on the other end of the court.
But the ensuing possession ended with Bashir Ahmed hassled into a shot-clock violation that Mullin clearly thought should have been called a foul.
Trevon Bluiett made both ends of a one-and-one with 1:04 to play and Ahmed got fouled and had a chance to tie the game at the line with 41.9 seconds left, but made only one of two free throws.
The next Xavier possession ended with Tariq Owens getting called for goaltending on Kerem Kanter’s drive with 18.2 seconds on the clock.
Owens was called for traveling eight seconds later and St. John’s had to foul Bluiett, who sank two free throws with 6.8 seconds left to ice it.
“We missed a few free throws. We had a questionable shot clock violation. It’s hard to get a ball up when you can’t use your arms,” Mullin said. “We’ve got to hang in there. I know we keep saying it, but they will and we have . . . When we get to the other side, we’ll look back and be proud of ourselves. I’m proud of the way we’re playing.”
Shamorie Ponds had 31 points and became the 10th St. John’s player to eclipse the 1,000-point mark in his second season. Clark finished with 19 points and Ahmed had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Bluiett had 14 points and Kanter and Quentin Goodin each added 13 points for Xavier (20-3, 8-2).
Clark called the team together at center court after the handshake line.
“I just told the guys keep our heads up,” he said. “When the game ends like it did — as hard as we fought for 40 minutes against the No. 6 team in the country — all you can do is walk away with your heads high. I said everybody in this huddle had a boneheaded play and at the end of the game, it’s a factor we control.”
Ponds was asked afterward if he found it hard to believe that the team that nearly took out the Musketeers is now 0-11 in the Big East. “I don’t think we could believe it,” he replied. “Hey, what are we going to do about it? We have to go into every game thinking we can win, even with our record, and break the ice. It’s Duke Saturday; we’ll try to get it done at the Garden.”