St. John’s basketball questions physicality following second straight loss

St. John's basketball center Joel Soriano (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball center Joel Soriano (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

The St. John’s basketball team got a major reality check in a blowout loss to Xavier. 

The message seemed clear following the second consecutive loss for the St. John’s basketball team on Wednesday night; the Johnnies were not physical enough.

In its 84-79 wire-to-wire victory, No. 22 Xavier (11-3, 3-0 Big East) out-rebounded the Red Storm, 48-36. The Musketeers created 16 second chance points off of 16 offensive rebounds and accumulated 48 points in the paint.

“I thought this was more effort,” head coach Mike Anderson said following the loss.

“Obviously in Big East play it gets more intense, it gets more more physical and we have to continue to match the physicality of the game.”

St. John’s (11-3, 1-2 Big East) had no answer for Xavier center Jack Nunge after he poured in 23 points and 12 rebounds on 10-of-14 shooting.

“I feel like we weren’t as physical as we needed to be in the first half,” St. John’s center Joel Soriano explained.

The Musketeers scored 27 points in seven minutes and opened up a 15-point lead, 27-12, as its lead grew to as many as 16 points towards the end of the first half.

St. John’s cut its deficit at halftime, 48-37, but it struggled just as much to begin the second half after Xavier pushed its lead back to 16 points, 59-43, within the first five minutes and led by as many as 18 points on multiple occasions.

“I take blame,” Soriano said on why the team consistently struggles in the first half.

“I feel like I have to get the guys going and my play in the first half has to be better.”

However, the Red Storm came charging back to cut its deficit to six, 69-63, with 6:42 remaining but could never get closer to the Musketeers and lacked the clutch execution late in the game.

Andre Curbelo missed a layup with 1:45 left in the second half which could have brought the Johnnies within four points and also took an ill-advised 3-pointer early in the shot clock with 50.3 seconds left and St. John’s trailing by six.

David Jones led the way for the Red Storm with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

St. John’s basketball gets major reality check

A win would have been the best victory of the season for the St. John’s team and it typically dug itself a massive hole in the first half, which would ultimately be its downfall.

The game should raise some more eyebrows on how the Red Storm have been playing against better competition this season after trailing by at least 10 points against Nebraska, Temple, Syracuse, Iowa State, Villanova, and Xavier.

The double-digit deficit has been present in the first half in each game with the exception of the Red Storm’s loss against Villanova where the Johnnies opened up an 11-point lead only to surrender a 17-2 run going into halftime to trail by four.

“We’re not connected. We’re still not connected somehow on flow on offense, even on defense. We’re still having some mishaps that we shouldn’t have at this point in the season,” associate head coach TJ Cleveland said in his post game radio interview

“I don’t even blame the kids. I put it on us as a coaching staff. We have to do a better job in our preparation, offensively and defensively, to get us better,” the coach continued.

“The Big East is just different. Hopefully tonight, losing at home, gives [the players] the sense of urgency you have to play with.”

If physicality was an issue against Xavier, St. John’s will have to find its toughness quickly when it will face a desperate Seton Hall (7-7, 0-3 Big East) squad looking for its first conference victory of the season on Saturday afternoon (12:00p.m., FS1) in Newark.

“One of the things about these guys is that they’ve responded, and I think they will. They have a lot more fight in them,” Anderson said.

Mike Anderson explained Dylan Addae-Wusu has not practiced in the last few days due to an illness and was noncommittal on the availability of Rafael Pinzon (illness), who did not play against Xavier.