Inabilities to make plays down the stretch in three losses to ranked foes last month are the only things keeping Xavier from an unbeaten start.
Since those three close defeats, Xavier is on a six-game winning streak and the Musketeers attempt to validate their No. 22 ranking in this week’s poll Wednesday night when they visit St. John’s in Queens, N.Y.
Xavier (10-3, 2-0 Big East) entered the poll for the first time this year after losing by a combined 13 points to then No. 12 Indiana, then No. 8 Duke and then No. 6 Gonzaga.
Since an 88-84 loss to Gonzaga in Portland on Nov. 27, Xavier is averaging nearly 86 points though its last victory was also decided by a strong defensive showing. In their 73-70 win over visiting Seton Hall on Dec. 20, the Musketeers shot 44.8 percent and went 5 of 20 from 3-point range but also allowed 70 points or fewer for the fifth time this season.
Zach Freemantle led Xavier with a season-high 23 points and helped shoulder the load for leading scorer Souley Baum. Baum, who is averaging 19 points and 5.7 assists per game during the winning streak, was held to 10 after getting a career-high 28 points in a 13-point win at Georgetown on Dec. 16.
“We just had to match their physicality, their toughness and do our best in bringing it to them and not letting them throw the first punch,” Freemantle said.
Xavier’s rotation should be even closer to 100 percent this time. The Musketeers survived Seton Hall despite second-leading scorer Colby Jones feeling under the weather.
The Musketeers are seeking their fourth 3-0 start in Big East play and looking to end a three-game losing streak to St. John’s mostly due to their inability to keep pace with the Red Storm’s offense.
Since its 69-61 home win on Jan. 6, 2020, Xavier has allowed 86.7 points in the past three encounters while only scoring 74.3 per game.
“To St. John’s credit they truly have an identity and their identity is really through their style of play, which is pressure basketball, full-court pressure, a lot of quickness on the court,” Xavier coach Sean Miller told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Statistically, if you look at them, they’re also one of the best offensive rebounding teams we’ve played. They force turnovers, they play at a fast pace, they have a ton of quickness and skill on the court and they get second shots.”
While the Red Storm often do all of the things mentioned by Miller, not much went right last Wednesday when they sustained a 78-63 loss at Villanova.
The Red Storm average 79.5 points per game but were held to their second-fewest points and shot 36 percent, marking their third-lowest percentage this season.
Joel Soriano registered his 11th double-double with 17 and 13 rebounds, but St. John’s other four starters — David Jones, Posh Alexander, Montez Mathis and Andre Curbelo — combined for 29 points on 13 for 48 (27.1 percent) from the field.
“We’ve got to be better; I think that’s the bottom line,” Red Storm coach Mike Anderson said after the Villanova loss. “I think we’re a much better team than we put on display tonight. I think the tempo was to their liking, but at the same time, we had a lot of shots that we missed. You’ve got to have the extra effort.”
–Field Level Media