Trailing by as many as 14 early in the first half and eight in the second half, the St. John’s Men’s Basketball team willed its way to a 74-70 victory over No. 23/RV Connecticut in the first meeting between the programs since 2013.
The triumph marked the first road win and first ranked win of the season for St. John’s (8-7, 3-6 BIG EAST). Mike Anderson now owns three wins over Associated Press Top 25 teams during his tenure in Queens.
The Red Storm has now won four of its last five games against UConn, who it met on Monday for the first time since 2013. The win snapped an eight-game skid against the Huskies on the road that dated back to 2001.
“We needed a win, period,” said Anderson. “I thought that we just needed to play a complete 40 minutes.
“We have a team that is not dependent on one or two guys playing well to win, so now some other guys had an opportunity to go out and perform and they did.”
The Red Storm trailed 57-49 with 8:50 to go before Posh Alexander tallied five points and an assist on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 59. The Johnnies took their first lead on a Marcellus Earlington triple with 4:18 to go and never trailed again.
Alexander led five St. John’s scorers in double figures, matching a season high with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Entering the game just 5-of-22 from three-point range on the season, Alexander cashed three of his five attempts from downtown. In addition to his scoring, Alexander also led the Red Storm with six assists and three steals while registering four rebounds and a block.
Earlington proved similarly automatic from deep, finishing with 15 points and going a perfect 3-for-3 from distance. The junior also grabbed five boards in 20 minutes of action while finishing with a team-best plus-minus rating of +18.
Julian Champagnie, the leading scorer in the BIG EAST heading into the contest, scored seven of his 12 points at the charity stripe and grabbed a team-high six boards. The sophomore converted on only two field goal tries, but they both came in huge moments; Champagnie hit a triple to bring the Red Storm within two with 7:21 to go before a driving bucket made it a two-possession game in favor of the Johnnies with just over a minute to play. The Bishop Loughlin High School product has reached double figures in all 13 of his appearances this season.
Fellow Brooklyn native Rasheem Dunn posted 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and a 5-for-6 showing from the charity stripe, including a pair of clutch free throws to break a 64-64 tie with 3:33 to go.
During a first half where nothing seemed to be going right for the Red Storm, Dylan Addae-Wusu almost single-handedly kept St. John’s in the game. The freshman scored all 10 of his points in the opening stanza, going 4-for-4 from the floor during the first 20 minutes of action.
Anchored by Alexander and Earlington, St. John’s shot a season-best 46.7 percent (7-of-15) from three-point range.
St. John’s committed more turnovers than its opponent for just the second time this season, but was able to hold its own on the boards (34-34) against a Connecticut team that leads the conference in rebounding margin. The Johnnies converted 10 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points.
The Huskies got off to a quick start, making each of their first three and five of their first seven 3-point attempts and jumping ahead by as many as 14 with less than eight minutes gone in the game.
St. John’s settled down defensively and slowly chipped away at the UConn lead over the next six minutes, outscoring the Huskies, 16-5, and moving within three, 26-23, on a pair of Dunn free throws with 6:07 to play.
UConn rattled off five straight points to build its lead back to eight, but the Johnnies managed to cut the deficit back down to three by the end of the half.
A Josh Roberts layup to start the half brought the Red Storm within one, but turnovers began to bite St. John’s and six straight UConn points ballooned the Huskies’ lead back to seven, 41-34, with three and a half minutes gone in the period.
A quick 7-2 burst brought the Red Storm back within a pair, but another stretch of six unanswered for the Huskies gave the home team an eight-point edge, 49-41, with 13 minutes to play.
A pair of Earlington triples kept St. John’s in the mix near the midway mark of the half before Tyrese Martin scored five straight to give UConn a 57-49 lead 8:50 remaining. From there, the Red Storm began its 10-2 run to tie the game. Earlington started the stretch with a pair of free throws before an Alexander three-point play brought Johnnies back within three. Champagnie answered a Martin layup with his first bucket of the game, a 3-pointer, before a 2-for-2 trip to the line from Alexander knotted the contest at 59.
The Red Storm and the Huskies traded baskets before Earlington’s third triple of the night gave the Johnnies their first lead, 64-63, with 4:18 to play. A 1-for-2 trip to the line for R.J. Cole knotted the score at 64 on the next possession, but St. John’s would retake the advantage for good on a pair of Dunn free throws with 3:33 to go.
UConn had a pair of opportunities to take the lead in the final minutes, as Martin went 0-for-2 at the line with his team down one before Tyler Polley hoisted a long three with the Johnnies ahead by two and just under 10 seconds left on the clock.
St. John’s is scheduled to have nine days off before its next game, a road tilt at DePaul on Jan. 27. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. ET and the contest will air on FS1.
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Anderson
“First of all, happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to everyone. It was an honor to have an opportunity to play on such a day because Martin Luther King Jr. meant a lot to so many from Birmingham, Alabama all the way down South where a lot of stuff took place. With what is going on in the world today, I am just hoping that what he stood for and what he said with love overtaking hate, I hope that is the word for everybody. I thought the game was another step in the right direction for our team in terms of where we want to be. We saw some adversity; we were up four and they made a three and we talk about guys having to make a play. They went to the free throw line, missed a couple, and we had guys go to the line and make some free throws. As Posh [Alexander] said, the time for our guys to celebrate is until midnight and then it is over. We have been in so many close games, so many where we were right in position to win it and so confidence has to kick-in when you are playing against a UConn team that is playing really well. They had won [four] games in a row with [three of] them being on the road, and so for us, to come in off a tough loss to Marquette, I can’t say enough about the play of our guys. I don’t even think you realize that Posh didn’t practice yesterday, his tailbone was hurt, and he was getting treatment. So, for him to come out and have that kind of performance, it says a lot about him. I thought he talked about two of the guys that brought the physicality for us in Marcellus [Earlington] and Dylan [Addae-Wusu]. They brought the aggressiveness and toughness that you need to have, but it was a good team win.”
On how important the win was to his team…
“We needed a win, period. I thought that we just needed to play a complete 40 minutes. Defensively, I thought we were good, I thought that we turned the ball over too much, but every time we go out, we are trying to win because almost doesn’t get it done. We had almost against Marquette at home, but we got the job done today.”
On the impact of seeing other guys step up while Julian Champagnie was struggling…
“I think that we took another step, and that is the dynamics of a team. We have a team that is not dependent on one or two guys playing well to win, so now some other guys had an opportunity to go out and perform and they did. Don’t forget Josh [Roberts], and I thought that our bench played really well. I thought Isaih [Moore] came out and gave us some quality minutes. You are going to see some different guys on different nights, so tonight it was Dylan [Addae-Wusu] and Marcellus [Earlington] in the waning moments of the game. Even Rasheem [Dunn] hadn’t shot free throws well, but he knocks down two big ones to give us the lead. Again, this team continues to evolve, and we didn’t have the luxury of having 15 games before conference play, we jumped right into the fire and we are learning and forming our identity.”
On Julian Champagnie looking to make plays late despite not being able to find his shot early…
“I didn’t think he got frustrated even though he missed shots early on that he normally makes. He had a rough night, but we got the trust that he can go out and make plays, whether it be free throws or defensively. That is the sign of a good player, when a guy can still have an impact on a game when he isn’t scoring or at his best, and it makes a big impact on our basketball team.”
On the play of Dylan Addae-Wusu and Marcellus Earlington…
“I thought we saw their physicality in this game here and I thought that has been lacking with our basketball team. Sometimes you need a couple guys to be rough and tough and be physical and we saw that. I thought even Posh [Alexander] had a couple of big rebounds that stand out in my mind. He went and got a big rebound when they missed a fast break, and we were able to score on it. Then, going down the stretch, Dylan came across the lane and came up with a big steal. When you are on the road you need guys to make shots, and the turnovers are the thing that bothers me, but we got to the line and made free throws and that gave us an opportunity to win. Our guys found a way tonight.”
Freshman guard Posh Alexander
On what the win meant to the team after the loss to Marquette…
“It felt good at the moment. I personally feel like we can beat every team in the country and now we are coming together a little bit more. I just feel like this is a win for today and we are going to get back at it next week.”
On the contributions of Dylan Addae-Wusu and Marcellus Earlington…
“Marcellus and Dylan coming off the bench fired up the team because of their defense and toughness.”
On whether he knew Julian Champagnie would make big plays down the stretch despite his struggles…
“If Julian has a bad first half or start to the second, I know he is going to come back to the team. We basically live and die with him, so like, if he takes a couple bad shots and misses, we are going to go with that because I know that a majority of his shots are going to go in.”
On the team’s celebration in the locker room…
“We were just excited because it was the first time we have beaten a ranked team. But personally, I feel like we can beat any team. So, it feels good at the moment, but we are going to get right back at it next week.”
On if the week off will be beneficial…
“it is good, but I wish we could stay in the gym and get a couple more games in because we are already going.”
On his mentality in the big moments of the game…
“I know what I can do and like to get my team involved, but if it comes down to a situation where Julian can’t get a bucket, I like to step up and take over and try to lead my team to a win. When we opened up the floor and I got the and-one and the layup, that is something I know I can do, so I was just attacking the lane.”
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