CINCINNATI (AP) — Paul Scruggs scored 22 points, Ryan Welage hit pivotal 3s down the stretch, and Xavier extended its late-season surge by beating St. John’s 81-68 on Saturday, its ninth straight win over the Red Storm.
Xavier (17-14, 9-9) has won six of seven for momentum heading into the Big East Tournament. The Musketeers pulled off their latest win without top scorer Naji Marshall, who has averaged nearly 21 points during the surge. Marshall twisted his left ankle during a loss at Butler on Wednesday.
Welage added 19 points, including back-to-back 3s that put Xavier up 72-61 with 2:47 to go, the Musketeers’ biggest lead to that point.
St. John’s (20-11, 8-10) finished the regular season in a deep fade, clouding its NCAA Tournament prospects. The Red Storm has lost a season-high three in a row and four of its last five, and couldn’t take advantage of a Xavier team missing its best player. Marshall had a career-high 31 points during an 84-73 win at St. John’s on Feb. 28.
Shamorie Ponds led the Red Storm with 19 points and 10 assists.
Welage had 13 points — his first double-digit game since the league opener in December — as Xavier stayed ahead for most of the first half and took a 38-33 lead into the break .
Welage’s 3-pointer from the left corner gave Xavier a 69-59 lead — matching its biggest of the game — with 3:39 left. He hit another as the Musketeers pulled away down the stretch.
St. John’s: The Red Storm wasted a chance to clinch third place, which would have been its best finish in the Big East since 2000. Its NCAA Tournament resume includes a 3-1 record against Villanova and Marquette, but the Red Storm could use a solid showing in the conference tournament next week.
Xavier: The Musketeers are on the upswing as they conclude a challenging transition season under first-year coach Travis Steele, who lost four starters from the team that won Xavier’s first Big East’s regular season title a year ago.
Both teams await results of later Big East games to learn their opponents next week at Madison Square Garden.
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