Presented with a challenge by the Big East’s last-place team, No. 11 Xavier rallied in the second half to secure an 88-82 victory over St. John’s on Wednesday night at Cintas Center in Cincinnati.
After St. John’s grabbed a 67-64 lead on junior center Tariq Owens’ layup with 9:19 to go, the Musketeers reeled off 15 points in a row to give head coach Chris Mack his 203rd win at his alma mater. That lifted him above his coach, Pete Gillen, for first on the school’s all-time list.
Mack owns a .684 winning percentage during his eight-plus seasons at Xavier.
Senior forward Kerem Kanter, the brother of New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, produced 22 points and 13 rebounds to pace Xavier, which nailed a season-high 14 3-pointers. Senior guard Trevon Bluiett posted 23 points, and senior guard J.P. Macura notched 16 points for the Musketeers (17-3, 5-2 Big East).
St. John’s (10-9, 0-7) lost its seventh in a row despite long stretches of strong play. Sophomore guard Justin Simon delivered a career-high 28 points with nine rebounds and six assists, sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds contributed 18 points, and junior forward Marvin Clark II added 15 points.
St. John’s rallied from a 12-5 deficit to take three small leads midway through the first half, but Xavier continued to hit 3-pointers to regain a solid working margin. Kanter made a 3-pointer as part of his seven-point spree that pushed Xavier into a 35-30 lead.
Xavier, which hadn’t made more than 12 3-pointers in any game this season, drilled nine 3-pointers in the first half. That included Bluiett’s 25-footer with 13 seconds left to give the Musketeers a 42-34 lead at the break.
Ponds, who put up 37 points on Saturday against top-ranked Villanova, was held to seven points in the first half on 3-of-9 shooting. He finished 6 of 20 from the field.
Simon, Ponds and Clark took turns rallying St. John’s in the second half. When Ponds fed Simon a slick bounce pass for a fast-break dunk with 12:19 left, the Red Storm pulled into a 59-59 tie.
After St. John’s grabbed its 67-64 lead, Xavier took control. Macura started the 15-0 run with a dunk. Kanter tipped in his own miss, then Kaiser Gates threw down a dunk and sank a 3-pointer to make it 73-67 with 5:14 to go.
—Field Level Media