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LJ Figueroa staying at St. John’s

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St. John’s received some positive news on Wednesday as LJ Figueroa decided to return to the program after exploring transfer options.

Hitting the transfer portal after the departure of previous head coach Chris Mullin, Figueroa will be able to play next season instead of sitting a transfer year.

By staying with the Red Storm, the 6-foot-6 Figueroa gives St. John’s a proven two-way wing and double-figure scorer for new head coach Mike Anderson. Figueroa averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game last season — his first with the school — as he shot 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.

St. John’s has a chance to be solid with Figueroa returning next season but they’ll have to figure out how to plug a few roster questions — most notably replacing point guard Shamorie Ponds. The return of Figueroa at least gives the Red Storm an all-conference threat who helps them in multiple ways.

Four Xavier players declare for NBA draft process

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Four Xavier players will declare for the 2019 NBA Draft and explore the process, according to an official release from the school.

Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs will all go through the draft process after all four players had solid seasons for the Musketeers. Goodin (11.0 pts, 4.8 ast) and Jones (11.3 pts, 7.7 reb) are both juniors as the point guard and big man, respectively, are both solid defenders and double-figure scorers.

Marshall (14.7 pts, 7.2 reb) and Scruggs (12.3 pts, 4.9 reb) are both sophomore guards who are the team’s two leading scorers.

While Xavier struggled early in the season under first-year head coach Travis Steele, a late-season surge put them close to the bubble picture of the NCAA tournament as expectations will be high if these four guys all return.

Report: Chris Mullin stepping down at St. John’s

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St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin is expected to step down from his position with an official announcement this week.

First reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Mullin will exit his alma mater after four seasons at the helm. Even though St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said that Mullin would be back next season as head coach with a statement only a few days ago, Mullin will step aside after a disappointing tenure.

One of the greatest players in program history, Mullin’s hiring was met with a lot of local excitement. After landing some talented recruits, those expectations grew even bigger. But Mullin was never able to make a significant postseason run as he struggled to gain traction in a tough Big East.

During his tenure, Mullin finished 59-73 overall and 20-52 in the Big East as St. John’s had a disappointing end to this season after a 12-0 start. Flaming out in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA tournament after barely making into the Field of 68, the Red Storm suffered a blowout loss to Arizona State in Dayton to end their season.

Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley could be an option to make a move back to the East coast as his name is already being linked to the St. John’s opening.

Kevin Willard will remain at Seton Hall after turning down Virginia Tech

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Kevin Willard will stay the head coach at Seton Hall after listening to an offer from Virginia Tech.

After being linked to the Hokies after former head coach Buzz Williams took the job at Texas A&M, Willard will instead stay with the Pirates as Seton Hall is expected to give Willard a new contract with a raise. With Seton Hall potentially bringing back most of its roster from an NCAA tournament season, hopes are high for the Pirates in 2019-20 — particularly if guard Myles Powell returns after testing the NBA Draft waters.

“Didn’t want to leave my team,” Willard said to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press. “I really enjoy this group. That was the reason.”

While Virginia Tech attempted to lure Willard away with more money and the draw of playing in the loaded ACC, the Hokies also haven’t had a lot of sustained basketball success until Williams turned the program around. Leaving the comfort of a good thing at Seton Hall would have been a risk for Willard as he’s guided the Pirates to four straight NCAA tournament appearances.

Now that Virginia Tech’s top target has said no, it’ll be interesting to see where they turn to next as they remain one of the better jobs still available in the 2019 coaching carousel.

Arizona State races past St. John’s

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Arizona State raced out to an early lead and never trailed as they advanced past St. John’s with a 74-65 win on Wednesday night during an NCAA tournament First Four game in Dayton.

Jumping out to a double-digit lead 10 minutes into the game, the Sun Devils were barely threatened until late in the second half as the Red Storm had a disjointed night on offense. St. John’s had some early momentum in the second half during an 8-0 burst when the Arizona State lead was cut to eight points. The Sun Devils quickly pushed the lead back to double-digits with another run. With under five minutes left, St. John’s made a final push to cut the Arizona State lead to seven but they never made it over the hump to get fully back into the game.

Freshman Luguentz Dort was the standout for Arizona State on Wednesday as he finished with 21 points. Although Dort experienced a scary fall early in the second half, he shook off the hard landing to return. Dort’s health will be something to monitor for the next round as he’s clearly the best offensive weapon for the Sun Devils. Forward Zylan Cheatham (14 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Sun Devils on Wednesday as Arizona State didn’t play a particularly crisp game on offense.

Although Arizona State (23-10) led the entire game, they had 21 turnovers and some sloppy possessions that they’ll need to clean up before Friday’s first-round matchup with Buffalo. Arizona State advances to play the No. 6 seed Bulls on Friday in a West Region game in Tulsa. The matchup will feature Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley going against his former team as he left Buffalo four seasons ago to take the job in Tempe. Hurley will also be facing a head coach, Nate Oats, that he hired as an assistant coach at Buffalo. Wednesday’s win for the Sun Devils also marks the first NCAA tournament win for Arizona State since 2009 when they beat Temple in the first round.

St. John’s (21-13) never found a rhythm on offense as they shot 32 percent (22-for-69) from the field and 26 percent (8-for-31) from three-point range. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds (25 points, four assists) and guard L.J. Figueroa (19 points) were two of the only bright spots for the Red Storm as St. John’s turned the ball over 16 times.

Starting the 2018-19 season with a 12-0 record, St. John’s finished the year 9-13 as they plummeted once Big East play started. After such a promising start to the season, many predicted that St. John’s would be a factor in the Big East race.

Instead, St. John’s slipped to the point of barely making the Field of 68 as they were the last at-large team let into the field. Losing in a First Four game after being a top-25 team only two months ago is a very disappointing ending to what looked like a comeback season for this program. The Red Storm have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2000 as they’ve dropped five straight in the Big Dance.

Akinjo, McClung help Georgetown beat No. 16 Marquette

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette has to regroup quickly to salvage its once-promising season.

Freshman guards James Akinjo scored 25 points. Mac McClung added 23 and Georgetown beat No. 16 Marquette 86-84 on Saturday, the Golden Eagles’ fourth straight loss to close the regular season.

“We better try to figure it out,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “But regardless, when your offense isn’t going the way you want it to, you have to play defense. I thought their freshman guards just had their way with us. Credit to them. I mean, they hit tough shots, not all of them were easy. But, you can’t let a backcourt come in here and score 50.”

Jamorko Pickett and Jessie Govan each added 10 points for the Hoyas (18-13, 9-9 Big East), who were coming off a 101-69 loss at DePaul.

Markus Howard led Marquette (23-8, 12-6) with 28 points, and Joey Hauser added 16. The Golden Eagles, who dropped from No. 10 the previous week, missed a chance to tie Villanova for the conference title. The Wildcats lost at Seton Hall earlier Saturday.

Pickett hit a 3-pointer from the top to put Georgetown up 82-77, and Joey Hauser countered with a 3 from the left corner to make it 82-80 with 46 seconds left. Govan hit the first of two free throws to put the Hoyas up 83-80. Howard was fouled on the ensuing possession, but only hit the second free throw to make it 83-81 with 11 seconds remaining.

Akinjo’s two free throws made it 85-81, and Howard hit a 3-pointer from the top to cut the lead to 85-84 with 3.5 seconds left.

Picket hit the first of two free throws with 2 seconds left, and time expired during the rebound scramble.

“James (Akinjo) didn’t play his best game the first time we played them, made some key mistakes,” Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said. “But I thought he grew from them. In the first half, he started reverting back to mistakes that he made in that game. I got on him a little bit, but I thought that he showed that he’s growing up.”

Howard had 28 points and Joey Hauser added 16 for Marquette.

Howard, the Big East’s leading scorer was 8 of 25 from the field, including 3 of 10 from beyond the arc.

Howard was coming off a six-point performance on 2-of-11 shooting in a 73-64 loss to Seton Hall in which the Pirates scored the final 18 points of the game.

Marquette took a 60-53 lead on floater from the lane by Howard with 10:57 left, but the Hoyas tied it at 63 on Akinjo’s 3-pointer. The Golden Eagles led in the second half of each of their four losses.

“Obviously we’re disappointed we had this loss,” said Marquette forward Brendan Bailey. “We definitely wanted to win. But we’re just keeping our heads high. We’re talking positive. We’re not pointing fingers at anybody. We’re all still great, close teammates. We just need to come together even more.”

The Golden Eagles shot just 34 percent, making 23 of 67 shots.

“I thought we great looks,” Wojciechowski said. “We missed a number at the basket, we missed a number of open shots. I don’t think it was a problem with our shots.”

The Golden Eagles, who entered as the Big East’s top free-throw shooting team at 77 percent, missed 10 of 36 attempts, including six in the second half.

“We missed more free throws than we normally do,” “Wojciechowski said. “Again, those things happen. We’ve got to play better defense.”

BIG PICTURE

Georgetown: The Hoyas enter the conference tournament looking for consistency. Georgetown hasn’t won more than two consecutive games since early December. “We had a great win today and it would be a shame if we don’t follow it up on Thursday with another great performance. So, we have to build on it,” Ewing said.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles need to take care of the ball after being hurt by turnovers during their skid. Marquette, which had committed 58 turnovers in its previous three losses, had five against Georgetown.

UP NEXT

Big East Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York.