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St. John's players tried to get into Xavier locker room

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 3/8/2018 DANIEL POPPER

Video by Sports Illustrated

The third straight losing season for St John’s came to an anticlimactic close Thursday afternoon, and frustrations apparently reached a breaking point in the bowels of the Garden after the final whistle.

Xavier, the Big East regular-season champions, crushed the Red Storm, 88-60, in the first conference tournament quarterfinal of the day in midtown. While the teams were shaking hands, Bashir Ahmed of St. John’s and Xavier’s Tyrique Jones got into a heated exchange. Ahmed walked away after a brief back-and-forth but was then confronted by Musketeers forward Trevon Bluiett, who led all scorers with 27 points. The teams started shoving. Xavier head coach Chris Mack slid in between the two sides and broke up the short scuffle, sending all the players to their respective locker rooms.

However, that was not the end of the tensions. According to The Athletic, St. John’s players attempted to get into the Xavier locker room, which on Thursday was in the Knicks’ home locker room underneath the Garden. And now the Big East is reviewing security footage to determine exactly what occurred.

“We know something happened,’’ Big East senior associate commissioner Stu Jackson told The Athletic. “But at this time, we aren’t really sure exactly what it is.”

In his postgame news conference, Mack accused multiple St. John’s players of refusing to shake hands, which presumably spurred the initial skirmish during the handshake line.

“I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus,” Mack said. “Couple of guys didn’t want to shake hands. But it was quickly squelched. Let’s concentrate and worry about the game.”

It’s possible St John’s players were upset with Xavier for running up the score. With the Musketeers already leading by 23 points, Kaiser Gates (16 points off the bench) drilled a three with 47 seconds left. Then Sean O’Mara slammed home an exclamation points dunk with just more than three seconds remaining, which could certainly be viewed as unnecessary.

St. John’s coach Chris Mullin’s postgame news conference ended with a two-part question: Did he feel like Xavier ran up the score, and what did he see in the handshake-line scuffle? Mullin only answered the second one.

“I didn’t see anything,” he said.

The game itself was much less entertaining.

The Red Storm stayed with Xavier in the first half thanks to 12 points from sophomore guard Justin Simon. The Musketeers led by just four points entering the break. But if St. John’s had any chance of making a Big East Tournament run this week, star guard Shamorie Ponds needed to be Superman. And on Thursday afternoon, Ponds was powerless against Xavier’s hounding defense.

Ponds, a first-team All-Big East selection who averaged nearly 22 points per game during the regular season, connected on just four of his 14 field-goal attempts, including 0-for-7 from three. He still finished with 15 points by getting to the foul line, hitting seven of his eight free throws. But St. John’s needed more.

“It’s tough, I’ll be honest,” Mack said of shutting down Ponds. “He’ll make some contested shots that can zap your confidence defensively at times. But he missed some of those.”

Tired legs seemed to play a factor. The Red Storm advanced to the quarterfinals with a double-digit win over Georgetown on Wednesday night — spurred by Ponds’ 26 points — but were then forced to return to the Garden for a noon tip-off Thursday against a top-three team in the nation.

“The turnaround is what is is,” Mullin said. “It’s scheduled out and that’s what you get for coming in ninth (in the conference).”

Marvin Clark II paced St. John’s with 18 points. The Red Storm shot just 35.6 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from downtown.

Xavier outscored St. John’s 55-31 in the second half before tempers flared.

“They definitely stepped up their defense,” Simon said of the second-half collapse. “They guarded us well and they got out and ran. And they were scoring the ball. It was hard to stop them when they were going.”

Related slideshow: 2017-18 college basketball season (Provided by photo services) 


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