Xavier started slowly today. They didn’t get a bucket until there were more than 3 minutes off the clock, but they were still up 6-5 at that point thanks to four free throws in the early going.
The offense continued to slumber just 13 points in the first 8 minutes. Justin Simon caught a couple of wide open looks from the corner and converted them, and suddenly the Johnnies were on a 13-4 run and had taken a 22-17 lead.
That was pretty much as good as it got for St. John’s. Xavier answered with a 13-2 of their own keyed by Kaiser Gates, and there was never an answer. The Muskies went into the half with a 33-29 lead in a game they felt fully in control of.
If you had that feeling at the half, the Muskies came out of the locker room and almost immediately validated it. They came out 12-6 before the first media timeout and stretched it to 15-6 out of the break. Xavier carried a double-digit lead for the final 15:46 of the game, and the Muskies were home and dry well before the final horn.
The second half was the story of Xavier scoring for fun. Tre dropped 20 after the interval. Kaiser was 3-4 on second half threes. Big Sean spiked a couple of monster dunks late. JP finished the game with 9/6/5 and 4 steals and made a couple of new friends along the way.
With their on-court capitulation complete, St. John’s only found their collective fight in the handshake line. Bashir Ahmed had words for Trevon Bluiett and tried to pursue it with him as the line continued to move. Tyrique Jones was (shockingly) ready to make it a thing, but Xavier’s senior star just laughed and walked away. When you’ve just run a team off its home floor to end its season, I guess you don’t really care who has sand in his swimsuit about it.
Kaiser is back
Xavier’s enigmatic stretch four showed some flashes in the first half by hitting his first three and throwing down a monster dunk from a Sean O’Mara dime. In the second half, it was more of the same. Gates kept finding space on the floor, and his teammates kept finding him. He converted just about every chance that came his way; when he’s scoring like this and defending like he always does, he’s a huge asset.
This team’s strength is its insatiable depth
Tre started slow, but Xavier wasn’t hopeless. First JP was all over the court, making steals and dropping dimes. Q put down a big dunk, and the team was 11-12 from the line in the first half. Then Tre started hitting, Kaiser caught fire, and Xavier went from ahead to comfortably ahead to out of sight. Neither Tyrique nor Big Sean had a particularly inspiring game, and Naj was saddled with foul trouble, but it didn’t matter. Xavier has too many weapons for one or two off games to derail the offense.
Xavier is locking in
To get to the promised land, a team has to be very talented and execute at a high level. Xavier certainly ticked both boxes tonight. They crushed the glass, at one point midway through the second half boasting a DReb% of 93%. They protected the ball and forced turnovers. When the jumpers weren’t falling early, they attacked the basket and got to the line all game. They’ll face more talented teams going forward, but you wouldn’t back anyone against them if they keep playing like this.