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St. John’s peculiar season ends with loss to Xavier in Big East tourney

The Red Storm won just four games in conference play but toppled elites Duke and Villanova in early February.

Shamorie Ponds scored 15 points in Thursday's loss

Shamorie Ponds scored 15 points in Thursday's loss to Xavier at Madison Square Garden. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

During the regular season, no matter how many losses St. John’s basketball racked up, it still seemed like it could beat anybody.

But the optimism that filled Madison Square Garden a month ago, when the Red Storm (16-17, 4-14 Big East) upended Duke before toppling mighty Villanova in an otherwise lackluster year, gave way in Thursday’s Big East Tournament quarterfinals. Top-seeded Xavier chipped away and grew a lead that became a dominant 88-60 win at the Garden.

“I’m proud of our team for fighting back and making, salvaging something out of the season,” St. John’s forward Marvin Clark said.

The insurmountable lead took time. Justin Simon energized St. John’s early, putting up 12 points in the first half. In the second, a four-point halftime deficit ballooned. After beating eighth-seeded Georgetown the night before, the Red Storm struggled to keep pace.

“I know if there’s any team in the conference that [wasn’t] necessarily going to get tired it would probably be St. John’s,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “All those guys play 36, 37 minutes.”

That looked to be the case for stretches, like when Clark hit a 3 from the corner late in the first as the shot clock expired to bring the St. John’s offense to life right when fatigue began to appear.

Clark finished with 18 points. Simon had 14. Shamorie Ponds scored 15 with seven rebounds.

Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett had 27 points and seven rebounds, while Kaiser Gates scored 16. The Musketeers (28-4, 15-3), a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will face No. 5 seed Providence — 72-68 winners over fourth-seeded Creighton on Thursday afternoon — in the first semifinal Friday night.

For St. John’s, the postseason road likely ended Thursday. It had some lessons to pack up for the offseason.

“I thought they did a good job handling different things that were thrown at them, just absorbing it, being accountable and just kind of moving on,” coach Chris Mullin said.

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