Tareq Coburn's 20 points propel St. John's over Xavier
Tareq Coburn finally got his chance. He made the most of it.
St. John’s 6-5 grad transfer from Hofstra made his first appearance in the starting lineup after being feted on Senior Night and took a central role as the Red Storm posted an 81-66 Big East victory over Xavier Wednesday night in the team’s final game of the regular season at Carnesecca Arena.
Coburn’s 20 points included five three-pointers, his most in a Storm uniform, and helped St. John’s get a little breathing room in the second half. But, as usual, it was Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander who got the Storm (16-13, 8-10) across the finish line in a win that clinches the No. 7 seeding for next week’s conference tournament and consigns the Musketeers (17-12, 7-11) to No. 8.
"It was their ‘go time’ and they put us in a position to finish off the win," Storm coach Mike Anderson said.
The victory also assures the Red Storm will finish no worse than .500 this season, extending Anderson’s streak to 20 straight such finishes as a head coach. Only Anderson, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo have coached 15 or more seasons without having a team finish below .500.
The loss could damage Xavier, which looked like a lock for the NCAA Tournament a couple weeks ago, but now has lost five straight and seven of eight.
A 12-point St. John’s lead had shrunk to 52-49 with 8:37 left to play when Alexander stepped to the fore. He had four points and assisted on a three-pointers by Coburn and Aaron Wheeler in a 10-4 run for a 62-53 lead on his layup with 6:30 to play.
"Posh sets the stage. . . he revs our engine," Anderson said.
Next it was Champagnie’s turn. The 6-8 junior, who explored entering the NBA Draft last season before deciding to return, scored six straight points to push the margin wider. When he made a steal in the backcourt and banked in a jumper with 4:53 left, the Storm lead was 68-55 and they were on course to win.
Champagnie finished with 19 points and eight rebounds in what might have been his last game at Carnesecca Arena. Many who evaluate the draft see the Brooklyn product as perhaps a second-round pick.
"If this is my last (home) game, I feel very good about it," Champagnie said. "We won and that was my goal. If we’d lost, I’d be very upset."
Alexander had 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, Aaron Wheeler had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Joel Soriano had 10 points for St. John’s. Colby Jones had 13 points and Jack Nunge had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Musketeers.
Coburn was a third-team all-conference player for Hofstra last season and thought his basketball career was over when he was accepted to St. John’s rigorous grad program to become a physician’s assistant. Professors and students in the program encouraged him to play this season despite the workload and Anderson had a scholarship for a top outside shooter.
His season wasn’t an easy balance as he juggled school, an illness and an injury. He came in averaging 4.1 points in 12 minutes per game. He played a season-high 26 minutes against Xavier.
"I wanted him to have a big game. He deserves that," Champagnie said. "He’s studying on 2 a.m. flights. I felt it was going to happen for him tonight, regardless."
Said Coburn: "It was the last game at home and I’m never going to play a college (home) game again. (Anderson) had the ultimate confidence in me and I just played."