Hosting its highest ranked on-campus opponent in more than four decades, the St. John’s Men’s Basketball team took down the No. 3/3 Villanova Wildcats in convincing fashion, 70-59, on Wednesday at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John’s (12-7, 6-6 BIG EAST) has now won five straight and six of its last seven. The Johnnies have won four straight BIG EAST games for the first time since 2014-15, a streak that includes three conference road victories.
The win was the Red Storm’s second of the season against a ranked opponent and the best of the Mike Anderson Era so far. The win marked the Red Storm’s first against a top-five foe since downing eventual national champion and No. 1/1 Villanova on Feb. 7, 2018, in Philadelphia. The victory was also the best at Carnesecca Arena/Alumni Hall in terms of AP ranking since Jan. 19, 1966, when Sonny Dove tallied 28 points and 24 rebounds in an 82-72 win over No. 3 Saint Joseph’s during Lou Carnesecca’s first year as St. John’s head coach.
Averaging an NCAA-low 8.3 turnovers per game before facing the Johnnies, Villanova (11-2, 6-1 BIG EAST) coughed up 17 possessions against the Red Storm’s unrelenting pressure. Arguably the best point guard in the country, Collin Gillespie registered six turnovers. Coming into Wednesday, Gillespie had 12 turnovers in 12 games and ranked fourth in the nation with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.7-to-1.
Posh Alexander recorded three steals to go along with a game-high 16 points and six rebounds. The freshman from Brooklyn shot 7-of-14 from the floor and 2-of-4 from three-point range. Alexander leads the BIG EAST and ranks seventh nationally with 2.7 steals per game.
Julian Champagnie scored all 14 of his points in the second half and grabbed a career-high 13 boards for his fifth double-double of the campaign. The leading scorer in the BIG EAST, Champagnie has reached double figures in all 17 of his appearances this season. The Bishop Loughlin product also blocked three shots, one off his career high.
Vince Cole sank four of his seven attempts from beyond the arc to finish with 12 points, marking his fourth straight game in double figures.
Freshman Dylan Addae-Wusu proved crucial to the St. John’s victory, tallying nine points, four rebounds, two assists and an emphatic block. Isaih Moore scored eight points on just five field goal attempts and grabbed six boards. Marcellus Earlington registered two steals.
As a team, St. John’s shot 43.5 percent (10-of-23) from three-point range while limiting the high-powered Wildcats offense to just a 26.7 percent (8-of-30) showing from deep. Villanova shot 32.3 percent from the field overall.
The Johnnies had last hosted a top-five opponent in Queens on Feb. 16, 1980, when they welcomed No. 2 Syracuse.
The Red Storm started the game slow, missing its first five shot attempts and seven of its first eight. Trailing 10-3 at the first media timeout, the Johnnies slowly began to chip away. Down 19-13 following a Cole Swider triple, the Red Storm rattled off a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the night.
The Wildcats briefly regained the lead, 25-23, following a Caleb Daniels three with 5:14 to play, but Cole drained a trey on the ensuing possession and the Johnnies never trailed again for the rest of the evening.
Up by three, 30-27, at the intermission, St. John’s opened the half on a 10-2 run to take its first double-digit lead of the night.
Down 15, 49-34, with 10:41 to play, Villanova went on a quick 7-2 spurt to shave the deficit back to 10 two minutes later. The Red Storm responded with a 7-0 run in the span of 70 seconds, as Addae-Wusu made a driving layup, Champagnie drained a three and Alexander threw down a fast-break slam off a steal to make it 58-41 with 6:49 to go.
Villanova would not go quietly, holding St. John’s scoreless for more than three minutes and going on an 8-0 run to trim the Red Storm lead to nine, 58-49, with 3:55 remaining.
Champagnie stopped the bleeding with his second 3-ball of the half and the Johnnies’ lead never dipped below 10 the rest of the way.
The Johnnies will look to win their fifth straight BIG EAST game when they travel to Providence on Saturday for a 2 p.m. showdown with the Friars on FS1 and 570 AM WMCA.
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Anderson
“First of all, Villanova, we know what that program stands for. Jay [Wright] is an unbelievable coach, they are an unbelievable team, but tonight, I thought our defense was the catalyst in this win. It was the Johnnies’ night. They didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, and I thought we got them off kilter, but at the same time, they came out swinging. They threw the first punch and went up 10-3, but our guys, once we got into a flow it was good. Obviously, a guy who spearheads our defense is Posh [Alexander], and he brought the energy, and the guys followed his lead. We played well in the first half, and I thought we played even better in the second half. Our bench, and I keep saying the strength of our team is going to be our bench, there are going to be teams with more talented starting-five’s than ours, but when guys come off our bench and play like Isaih [Moore] did, Marcellus [Earlington] gave us the physicality, Dylan [Addae-Wusu] came in and gave us quality minutes and how about Greg [Williams Jr.] in the five minutes he came in, you saw what he was capable of doing. So, I just pray and hope we can keep him [Greg] on the floor. Again, it was a good team win, we have got to enjoy it. Normally it is until midnight, I told them until one o’clock, and we have to turn our attention to the game on Saturday at Providence.”
On what the win can do for the team’s confidence…
“I think we can play even better. It was a test. Each game is a test and this is a team that we haven’t played yet in our league. Our league is very good, and obviously, Villanova is one of the top teams in the country. For us to hold serve at home, and I thought we did, it can boost our confidence. I know in my mind what type of program we are and for us to be where we are at this stage in our program, to have a win like that, it is a big win, but hopefully there are a lot more big wins.”
On the play of Posh Alexander tonight…
“He had a phenomenal night. This dude has got the biggest heart. He plays all out on both ends of the floor and is very determined to get our other guys going. You even saw tonight, [Julian Champagnie] was struggling and he was a guy that helped say ‘hang in there’ and ‘we will get you going’ and he ended up with a double-double. He is a leader, that is what he is, he has got one speed. I think as he plays teams he looks at it as a challenge, and our team is taking on that personality as well. Like I said, as a freshman, he can score, and more importantly, he is getting better as our team is getting better, he is playing with a lot of confidence.”
On how the team has turned a 1-5 BIG EAST record into 6-6 conference mark…
“Number one, the season was thrust upon us when you talk about playing in a pandemic. These guys have spent a lot of time together and I think they realize they have the opportunity to be a good basketball team. I just think never getting too high or too low and they have never gotten too low. Even when Creighton came in here and knocked our socks off, and then they did at their place, but the leadership is starting to emerge on this team. I think guys like Rasheem [Dunn] and Julian [Champagnie], they are holding the guys together, and they are believing and trusting in each other and seeing it through my eyes. It is good to see them grasp it, and I always say, when you play the way that we play, it takes a while to pick up on it, but when you start trusting each other’s roles and believing in one another it becomes a fun game and they are having fun.”
On the play of Julian Champagnie even when he was struggling to score…
“I think it says a lot. Their gameplan was to target him and make it difficult for him and every now and then he showed the frustration. What I liked about the way that he played was he was blocking shots, defending at a high-level, and he continues to grow and the game started coming to him in the second half. He started making free throws, making shots, getting offensive rebounds. It won’t flow every night from a shooting standpoint, but what can you do to impact the team and Julian impacted the group and was leading out there too.”
On the message to the team when they were down 10-3 at the first media timeout…
“Let ‘s get playing attack basketball. I thought that we were settling for jump shots and leaving them open. So, let’s be who we are, and I think we started on the defensive side. We inserted some guys in there, and you saw a difference in the energy. I think it was Dylan [Addae-Wusu] and Marcellus [Earlington] that helped pick up the defensive intensity, which led to us knocking down some shots. Posh [Alexander] hit a couple of shots and all of a sudden we got the game going the way that we wanted and that is all about the press.”
On how to build off of this win…
“People were asking about it even as we were getting ready to face Villanova and I said that it was a great challenge and great opportunity. We took the opportunity and now we made it work. It just tells our guys that when you play together, play the right way and defend, you can play with anybody in the country. That has got to be the method and we can get better. So, don’t get too high and don’t get too low. That has been my message to this team. Even as we came back from the Marquette game and they were in celebration-mode, my message to the team was not to get too high or too low, you have got to have that even-keel. My message has been to be workman-like, and go to the next game, and evidently they have listened, because they played one of their more complete games against an outstanding team.”
On the celebration in the locker room after the game…
“If you look at my sweater, it is probably a couple shades darker now. I think they had about 24 bottles of water, and probably something else. I hope nobody went out and got some water out of the toilet and threw it on me, but they doused me head-to-toe and they felt pretty good. I let them see another side of me.”
Sophomore forward Julian Champagnie
On what the win felt like …
“I am very proud of my teammates, Posh [Alexander] for sticking in there and continuing to play in that one. This win is a good win for us from a confidence standpoint, we won four in a row now it’s five, and it’s getting late into the season, late into BIG EAST play. I feel like this is right what we needed to give us that extra push, to continue to know we’re a legit team.”
On the potential of being an NCAA Tournament team…
“Well, we came into the season thinking that we would be an NCAA tournament team, but yes, it gives us the extra push to know it’s around the corner and were a legit contender.”
On if he still felt the team had NCAA Tournament potential when they were 1-5…
“Yes, I have the utmost confidence in my teammates, myself and my coaching staff. As you can see, 1-5 doesn’t even look near when you go on a run., like I said there is room for runs, and that’s what Coach [Anderson] always tells us. What’s in the past is the past, and what’s in the future is in the future, and we can control our future by going out and winning games.”
On the difference in his performance between the first and second half…
“Well, the first half I struggled. It has happened to me before, it wasn’t the first time this season, it has happened a couple of times. Going into halftime, I was a little frustrated. Shots weren’t falling and things weren’t going my way, but coming into second half I had to tell myself continue to play and do what my team needs me to do, and tonight wasn’t the night were I had to try and come out a score the most amount of points, that wasn’t it for me today. I had to come out and rebound, play defense, and push my teammates to be better players.”
On Posh Alexander’s defense against Collin Gillespie…
“I would just say it is in his willingness and drive. Before the game, I spoke to him personally and just told him that we got the number three ranked team in the country coming in with a potential player of the year and point guard of the year and I kind of saw he took it personally. I wasn’t surprised in how he played, but I was surprised he stuck to his word and he played and he did all that he could do to keep Collin [Gillespie] shut down.”
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