Two teams headed in opposite directions meet Saturday when the 16th-ranked Xavier Musketeers host the spiraling St. John’s Red Storm in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers remained tied with Marquette atop the Big East with a thrilling 85-83 overtime win over No. 17 Providence on Wednesday at home.
Xavier was playing its first game without star forward Zach Freemantle, who head coach Sean Miller said will be sidelined up to four weeks with a left foot injury.
Xavier (18-5, 10-2 Big East) rebounded from its worst loss of the season, a 17-point setback at Creighton last Saturday, to keep pace with Marquette in the conference.
“Traveling back from Omaha, not playing as well, losing that game, which Creighton’s a great team,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “Then losing Zach on the heels of that and having a couple days and playing what I think is not only one of the best teams in the Big East, but I wouldn’t want to play Providence in any tournament.”
The Musketeers were able to compensate for the loss of Freemantle thanks in large part to the effort of fellow big man Jack Nunge.
“I feel like I’m constantly yelling at him to do more, and you look at it, I mean this guy played 39 minutes, 10 for 15 from the floor, 3 for 4 from 3, 14 rebounds, 23 points, three assists and one turnover in a game like that,” Miller said. “Just a great performance.”
Another key factor in Xavier’s win was ball-handling. The Musketeers committed a season-low five turnovers over 45 minutes of game action.
“As the coach of our team, I’ve never been more satisfied, elated, proud of players, staff, really everybody that’s a part of our program,” Miller said. “This was not an easy task.”
The Red Storm (14-9, 4-8) have hit the skids since conference play started, losing three of four and eight of their last 11.
On Wednesday, in a home game against Seton Hall at Carnesecca Arena, the Red Storm blew a 13-point first-half lead and were outscored 52-37 in the second half in an 84-72 loss. The loss intensified criticism of embattled St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson.
“I just think we haven’t really come together and played at the level you gotta play at consistently,” Anderson said. “We just haven’t played the type of basketball I want us to play, to put it bluntly.”
With the home crowd getting restless, the Red Storm missed 10 free throws, committed 17 turnovers leading to 28 Seton Hall points and were outscored in the paint 42-32 by a smaller team.
Anderson said his team failed to take care of the ball and handle Seton Hall’s zone, both the result of poor decision-making.
“You got to be able to defend, you got to be able to make shots, you got to be able to make free throws and you got to take advantage of momentum when you get it,” Anderson said.
–Field Level Media