St. John's guard Julian Champagnie reacts after scoring against DePaul during...

St. John's guard Julian Champagnie reacts after scoring against DePaul during the first round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Credit: Noah K. Murray

On Tuesday Julian Chamagnie talked the talk. On Wednesday night, St. John’s star walked the walk.

The Red Storm needs to win the Big East championship to realize its dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament and, knowing it will take four wins in four nights, That’s why Champagnie used phrases like "do or die" and "run through a brick wall" at Tuesday’s pre-tourney news conference.

On Wednesday night he and the rest of the Storm showed exactly what they meant. Champagnie turned in a sensational 26-point, seven-rebound performance and seventh-seeded St. John’s committed just two turnovers as it rocketed past No. 10 DePaul in the first half and rolled to an 92-73 Big East first-round victory at Madison Square Garden.

St. John’s (17-14) advances to Thursday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal where it will meet eight-ranked and No. 2-seeded Villanova. The Wildcats (23-7) won both meetings with the Storm this season.

St. John’s quickly fell behind 12-2 before coach Mike Anderson called a timeout. They were a very different team coming out of it. Champagnie scored 22 of his points on 8-for-12 shooting and the Storm roared past the Blue Demons (15-16). At the half, St. John’s lead was 49-29 — a 30-point swing from the timeout.

"We understand what is on the line right now and we have a goal we want to attain and we know what we have to do to attain that goal," Champagnie said. "Coming out and playing hard is the only option. . . . That was our identity today and we rode it."

St. John’s seemed to get a scare when Posh Alexander appeared to injure his left ankle with 4:28 left in the first half and hobbled to the bench in an officials’ timeout. He soon returned and, though he looked uncomfortable at times, played through the pain to finish with eight points, seven assists and two steals.

"He didn’t want to come out. I had to force him to come out," Anderson said. "That tells you his will to win and maybe tolerate the nicks and injuries. He has a toughness that a lot of people don’t have. He was there for his team. . . . He showed the mindset of a true leader."

Several other Storm players were in the act as DePaul tried — and failed — to keep pace. Stef Smith had 13 points and drew three Demon charging fouls. Esahia Nyiwe had 10 points and nine rebounds, Dylan Addae-Wusu had eight points and five assists and Aaron Wheeler and Joel Soriano each scored eight points.

Javon Freeman-Liberty had 17 points for DePaul.

Out of the early timeout, Champagnie scored the next seven points to start flipping the contest on its axis. By halftime, he has a three three-pointers and a pair of dynamic dunks. DePaul’s last lead of the first half was 17-16 on Freeman-Liberty's layup with 10:53 until halftime. St. John’s then reeled off a 10-0 run that was capped by Soriano’s dunk off a sweet feed from Alexander for a 26-17 lead.

The Storm closed the half with a 23-5 run that started with Champagnie scoring 12 straight Storm points, including the two dunks and a pair of three-pointers.

In the second half, the Blue Demons got no closer than 17 points and St. John’s took its biggest lead, 81-54, on Soriano's jumper with 7:10 remaining.

"It’s unbelievable to watch him," Smith said of Champagnie. "We had to make sure to get him the ball and we did a really good job of doing that. . . . He can have nights like that."


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