By Andy Mac Williams, 1/18/2018

Xavier defended the home court successfully against St. Johns-winning 88-82, but it was no picnic. The Johnnies played feisty gambling defense. XU had trouble getting baskets inside. X survived 15 turnovers. The Red Storm broke out of a three point shooting slump and drilled 11 from long range, but Xavier trumped them making 14 of 26 from outside the arc. Two Muskie spurts defined the victory. X won the final 4 minute war of the first half 9-4 pushing their lead at the break to 8 points(at 42-34). Trevon Bluiett scored 6 in that span and posted an efficient game line(23 points on 8-15 shooting-6 rebounds-3 assists) as he closes in on 2000 career points(1972). His gutsy speed lay-up and FT put Xavier ahead by 6. PG Quentin Gooden then ran smart offense bleeding the clock and setting Trevon up for a late dagger three. St Johns worked back into contention over the first 11 minutes of half number 2 making 11 of 12 FGS. SJU led 67-64 with 9:19 left and the Muskies were teetering on a basketball night where 6 Top 25 teams lost to unrated opponents. Then Xavier dug in defensively and dominated with a 15-0 7 minute plus run. Coach Mack threw the zone looks out the window. Sticky nasty packline "D" won the game.

The come from behind line-up featured Gooden-Naji Marshall (BIG EAST Frosh of the Week)-Kerem Kanter-Kaiser Gates and Bluiett with a little J.P. Macura mixed in. Marshall played defensive stopper against Red Storm serial shooter Shamorie Ponds(37 points vs Villanova- only 18 against XU on 6-20 FGs). Versatile Naji had defended Creighton star Marcus Foster well Saturday at Cintas. Kanter scored 6 during the spurt(22 for the game with 11 rebounds in 23 minutes).

Gates stuffed in an offensive rebound then followed up with a wing three pointer to give Xavier decent separation at 73-67. The defensive stops were the key though as the Red Storm missed 10 straight FGs and XU played with few fouls. PG Gooden played a stealthy good floor game-mostly cracking the SJU press-dishing out 7 assists and making all 4 FTs down the stretch to salt away the win.


The Muskies improve to 17-3 overall and 13-0 at Cintas. X is 5-2 in the BIG EAST tied with Creighton for second place(a half game behind 5-1 Villanova)(a half game ahead of Seton Hall and Providence-both 4-2). St Johns is now 0-7 in the league. Tough luck is stalking Chris Mullin's team. Their three BE road losses at Seton Hall,Creighton and Xavier are by an average of 6 points. Home court numbers for the Top 4 BIG EAST teams(Villanova, Xavier, Creighton and Seton Hall)continue to boggle the mind. Those four are now 13-0 in BE home games and 45-0 overall in their home cities. Somebodies' overdue to rain on that overblown parade. Why not Xavier at Seton Hall this Saturday afternoon(2:30PM EST-BIG FOX-WXIX Channel 19 in Cincinnati)???


Seton Hall is 15-4 overall and 4-2 in the BIG EAST. They're 11-0 at the Rock(Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey) with BE home wins over Creighton, St Johns and Georgetown. Xavier has never won in Newark(0-4 since 2014). Every year it's something different!! 2014 Matt Stainbrook twisted his knee early. 2015 Pirate Wunderkind Isaiah Whitehead limped back from injury and killed XU. 2016 XU was still on Cloud 9 after upsetting #1 Villanova. 2017 SHU stars Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriquezz dominated scoring 25 and 22 points. Saturday's Xavier-Seton Hall game is already sold-out. The Hall is rated #19 in both national polls. They have risen to as high as 13th.

Coach Kevin Willard (8th year-two straight NCAA bids)has had success against XU(6-3 overall).He loves switching defenses and applying various forms of full court pressure. Willard(product of the Rick Pitino coaching tree) has his best team with four impact Seniors and a deep supporting cast. SHU will be in a foul mood after losing Wednesday 80-63 at Creighton and being blown-out recently at Marquette(84-64). Willard ran up the white flag early in Omaha. Desi Rodriquez played just 6 minutes(averages 31 MP and 17.5PPG). He then sat at the end of the bench and Willard said he was fatigued.

Walking double-double Angel Delgado(14PPG-!2 REBS) played 20 minutes and went 4 and 4. Obviously, those two are being saved for Xavier. SR PG Khadeen Carrington(lefty-14PPG-4 ASSITS) played more but struggled. Soph two guard Myles Powell led the Hall with 19 points(26 last season at Cintas). He's their streak shooter. 6-8 Michael Nzei is the other starter at power forward. SR BIG Ish Sanogo is now coming off the bench. He made BIG EAST All Tourney two years ago because of his defense when SHU dumped Villanova.

Seton Hall scores 80PPG and gives up 70. They play primarily old school inside out. Delgado is a nasty post player(Top active rebounder in NCAA D-1). Rodriquez when he's not feuding with Coach Willard is a tremendous scorer from every level. Carrington is now a PG after three seasons on the Wing. The Pirates' achilles heel continues to be FT shooting(67%) dead last in the BIG EAST-298th in the country out of 351 teams.

Xavier exorcises their Newark demons by leading into the final four minute war then making the crucial foul shots down the stretch. It's possible not probable given the Muskies' checkered road history in Newark, Philadelphia and Providence(1-13 in the New BIG EAST). This would be a platinum level road win for XU. Defensive stops are crucial and the "D" is getting stingier(witness Creighton and St Johns).

Maybe Naji Marshall can avoid foul trouble and contain Dunkin' Desi Rodriquez. Coach Mack can run the three headed Center Monster at Delgado. I'd pay to see Tyrique Jones trade blows with Angel. Bluiett drops 25!! J.P. plays a brilliant all-court game. Kanter uses his special assortment of flips and hooks to get Delgado into foul trouble. X breaks with history and rules at the Rock 79-76. Who am I kidding???


203 wins to pass Hall of Famer Pete Gillen!! 7 NCAA berths! TWO SWEET 16s!! ONE ELITE 8! 10-7 NCAA TOURNEY RECORD!! What's next? A FINAL 4?? Butler did it twice!! Villanova just won an NCAA Title! Why not???

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