St. John’s basketball holds off Xavier, advances in Big East Tournament

St. John's basketball (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports) /

St. John’s basketball held off Xavier to advance in the Women’s Big East Tournament. 

It was a new season for the St. John’s basketball team, the postseason to be exact. But everyone was back to step one with a 0-0 record and the Johnnies made the most of its fresh start.

The Red Storm (8-14, 5-12 Big East) raced out to an 9-0 run on Xavier (5-10, 2-9 Big East) in the First Round of the Big East Tournament, and ended the first quarter leading 21-11 thanks to nine points on 4-of-4 shooting from All-Big East First Team selection Leilani Correa.

However, the star sophomore guard would find herself in foul trouble in the second quarter, sitting for the entire ten minutes aside from the final 15 seconds where she naturally drained a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give St. John’s a 16-point lead going into halftime, 36-20.

“We haven’t [gotten out fast starts], and even in the games that we had this year, we weren’t able to finish, so I’m always a little bit anxious to see how we react when we start that well,” St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella said after the victory.

“I was pleased, it showed that they were focused and they were ready to play…they didn’t get caught up in the moment.”

Xavier would not go quietly as the Musketeers opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run and outscored the Johnnies in the frame, 20-8.

St. John’s never surrendered its lead and it never blinked like it had in the regular season, holding on to win 65-57.

Correa finished with a game-high 20 points in 36 minutes on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor with six rebounds and two assists.

“We were able to make shots outside of Leilani [Correa] and Unique [Drake], at this point, and those were big parts of the game for us to be able to win,” Tartamella said via Zoom after the victory.

Drake continued her hot stretch with 15 points, seven rebounds, and six assist while logging all 40 minutes for the Johnnies.

ALSO READ: St. John’s guard Leilani Correa named to All-Big East First Team

Tartamella said that Drake and Emma Nolan hit the biggest shots of the game in the fourth quarter while Xavier was trying to claw its way back in the game.

“[Drake’s] corner three really boosted us back. Between her shot and Emma Nolan’s three, and those are big things for us when other people can make shots like that, and we will need a bunch of those heading into tomorrow,” Tartamella said.

Drake hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter which put the Red Storm up by seven, 47-40, while Nolan also hit a jumper from beyond the arc which pushed the St. John’s lead back up to ten, 52-42, with seven minutes to play.

Nolan was also fouled on a three-point attempt in which she made two free throws, putting the Johnnies up by eight, 56-48, with 3:48 to play.

Kadaja Bailey finished with seven points, eight assists, and seven steals.

St. John’s basketball prepares to battle old, dominant foe

With its victory over Xavier, the Red Storm draw the draw of not only the top team in the Big East Conference, but the top team in the country with the No. 1 UConn Huskies (21-1, 18-0 Big East).

Geno Auriemma’s squad dominated St. John’s in its two previous matchups this season, wins by 28 points and 45 points, respectively.

ALSO READ: Undermanned St. John’s uses big second half to top Providence

Joe Tartamella expects the defensive pressure of the Huskies to challenge St. John’s as limiting turnovers will be a major key to trying to pull off the massive upset.

UConn forced 27 turnovers from St. John’s in its first meeting this season and 21 turnovers in the second matchup.

The Red Storm turned the ball over 23 times on Friday against Xavier.

Tipoff is scheduled for 12:00pm EST (Fox Sports 1) from Mohegan Sun Arena.