GAME NOTES: Playing their first true road game of the season, the Red Storm of St. John's blows into Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Musketeers in the Big East Conference opener for both programs.
St. John's, which is 2-2 on neutral floors heading into the final day of the calendar year, slipped by in-state rival Columbia at Barclays Center on Saturday, 65-59. The win was the third straight and the fifth in six tries for a Red Storm team that has lost a total of three games thus far, two of those to nationally-ranked programs.
As for the Musketeers, this is their first foray into Big East action, coming over from the Atlantic 10 where they were one of the more dominant members. The team is enjoying its second five-game win streak of the campaign, runs that have been divided by a three-game slide. Over the weekend, Xavier remained perfect at home over eight games as it defeated Wake Forest in a 68-53 final.
The Red Storm won the only previous meeting between the teams, a 75-55 romp in Queens way back in 1981.
Far from a perfect performance, the Red Storm managed to capture the six-point win in Brooklyn on Saturday even as they shot only 14-of-26 at the free-throw line. D'Angelo Harrison accounted for a team-best 15 points, Orlando Sanchez came up a rebound shy of a double-double as he tallied 12 points, while JaKarr Sampson tacked on 11 points, five boards and three of the squad's eight blocked shots.
As one of two players to have started every game, Harrison leads the way in scoring for the Red Storm with his 19.5 ppg, followed by Sampson with 12.7 ppg as the only players in double figures at the moment. Between the pair they are averaging close to 11 rebounds per outing and while Sampson is the most reliable performers in the paint with 6.8 rpg, having him on the floor late in meetings is not always the best option since he is shooting only 58.0 percent at the free-throw line.
The box score says the meeting between Xavier and Wake Forest featured five ties and eight lead changes, but by the half the game was already well in hand for the Musketeers as they held the visitors to only eight field goals through the first 20 minutes. Matt Stainbrook led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds as Xavier posted a 50-34 advantage on the glass. James Farr and Semaj Christon chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively, helping to fill the void left by starters Justin Martin Isaiah Philmore who combined to shoot only 3-of-18 from the field.
Christon, who is only 58.9 percent accurate at the free-throw line, is still the top scorer for the group with 14.7 ppg and is also tops in the passing department with 51 assists. Stainbrook (11.2 ppg) is a solid presence in the paint for the Musketeers who is capable of bringing down 8.5 rpg and is also first on the squad with 19 blocks, not to mention handing out a decent 24 assists for a big man.
The Red Storm are far from pushovers, but seeing as how Xavier is still unbeaten at home and this is the very first true road game of the season for St. John's, the visitors might be out of their element.
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