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Xavier 70-60 St. John's: Big East Opener Recap

Xavier was, briefly, alone at the top of the Big East after a convincing comeback win. How cool is that?

Xavier's big men made the difference late.
Xavier's big men made the difference late.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

First off, Happy New Year! A special thank you if you had the good sense to not drink and drive last night. Whether you took advantage of a free cab and tow, used a friend as a DD, or just didn't drink, everyone appreciates your not going out and killing their loved ones.

In all the excitement over James Farr's (5/4/0) amazing start to the season and Matt Stainbrook's (9/10/1) excellent arrival on the scene, certain players from last year have taken a backseat in the public eye. Last year, everything Xavier did revolved around one player. Semaj Christon (10/5/8) was responsible for everything other than the loading and unloading of the bus for road trips, and that's only because he doesn't have a CDL. This season, Xavier's sophomore guard finds himself surrounded by more talent than he probably allowed himself to hope for.

Yesterday though, Xavier needed Christon to step up again. Much will, deservedly, be made of Justin Martin (15/6/0) going off in the second half, but it was Semaj who made plays time and time again when the Musketeers needed them. Lost in Martin's second half starting burst was Christon's contribution to it. First, Semaj tied the game with a driving layup, on Xavier's next possession he found Martin for three, he followed that shortly with a block and another assist to Martin and Xavier had stretched their very first lead of the game to nine with 16 minutes to play.

The reason that was Xavier's first lead of the game was because they had started the game absolutely dreadfully. A 1-13 start from the floor saw the Musketeers not score until the 11:55 mark in the first half. Remarkably, that didn't bury the home team, as the defense held firm even as the offense struggled. The Red Storm only managed to go 4-12 in that opening stanza and could not pull away from, who sputtered, staggered, and looked hapless before suddenly springing to life.

When Xavier did come alive, it was Matt Stainbrook who go them going. His drive from the free throw line got the Musketeers on the board. From then, a 9-4 run got Xavier back into a game they, by all rights, should have lost less than a quarter of the way into. St. John's attempted to answer but, with the Cintas standing and fully into the game, it was only a matter of time before Xavier had leveled the score at 17 with an Isaiah Philmore (11/9/2) layup. It was Philmore who brought things even, but it was another of the new talents that had pulled Xavier back.

Brandon Randolph (7/2/1) hasn't shot well this season, but he's demonstrated a cool head under pressure and been fearless with the ball. Yesterday, his offense came around when his team needed it the most. Trailing 15-9 after St. John's steadied themselves, Xavier needed to recapture the momentum quickly. Randolph converted a layup from a Christon feed, returned the favor a moment later, grabbed a steal, drained a three pointer to draw back even at 20, and leveled the scores with another three pointer to make it 25 all two minutes before the half.

After the half, it was all Justin Martin. Three pointer, tip in, steal and runout, layup, and two free throws and Martin had blown the game open to a 44-34 lead. Martin remains as enigmatic a player as Xavier has had in a long, long time. While Jeff Robinson only showed flashes of his quality, Martin seems to serve a reminder every fortnight before he fades back into his haze. Tellingly, Coach Mack mentioned after the game "I want him to play with a little more energy outwardly for his teammates. Playing hard is... a 'we' thing." Yesterday, Martin was full engaged and he was the one who scored the points to drive Xavier free.

That was hardly the game though, because this is the Big East. St. John's pulled themselves back within four at 48-44 with a D'Angelo Harrison jumper with just under ten to play. Two Christon free throws and a Martin block solidified the lead back at six where it hung and wavered for the next three minutes before Xavier's bigs put it away for good. Stainbrook rumbled free for a layup and four straight Philmore free throws pushed the gap back to 60-49 and, for all of the Red Storm's industry, it was never in doubt after that. Bouyed by Christon on both ends and the bursts of offense from Randolph and Martin, Xavier went clear at the top of the Big East, if only for a couple of hours.

Three Answers:

- Will Xavier control the boards? It wasn't a dominating performance, but X grabbed 45 rebounds to St. John's 38. The Storm were active on the offensive glass, but Xavier was even better on their end. Quite frankly, it's going to take something special for any team to top the Musketeers on the glass.

- Can Xavier avoid being blocked? St. John's swats everything they can see and Xavier gets blocked an appalling amount. At least, that was the case until yesterday. Xavier got sent away seven times yesterday, which isn't a great number on its own, but it's less than half of what the statistics would have suggested would happen based on the 56 shots the Musketeers took. The Red Storm blocked 24.6% of shots coming into the game, and only 12.5% in this game.

-Why does St. John's shoot so dang many mid-range jumpers? I have no idea, but it's completely daft. Lavin can say all he wants about not being able to get to the rim, but his team takes only 6% below the national average at the rim, and shoots 14% more two point jumpers than the national average. At the rim the Red Storm, who are huge, shoot 6% above the national field goal percentage, compared to the 1% below the national average they shoot on two point jumpers. There's just no call for it, and it smacks of atrocious coaching from a guy who really should know better. Yesterday St. Johns took more than half of their shots as two point jumpers. They shot 30% for the game. Thanks guys!

Xavier SI Dept Graphic:

Tweet of the Game: