St. John’s found itself in a familiar spot Tuesday night against Butler. The Red Storm had played well enough to hold a second-half lead, but now the tide was turning. There were enough defensive lapses and enough good plays by the Bulldogs to make the margin uncomfortably close.
That’s when Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander dug in, shoring St. John’s up where on many other nights it let things get away. The duo made big plays on both ends of the court as St. John’s answered with a 10-1 burst, fending off Butler to score a much-needed 69-57 Big East win at Carnesecca Arena. The Red Storm never trailed as it snapped a two-game losing streak for its first win in 2021.
Asked why this night turned out different than others, Champagnie replied "we were tired of losing. We were fed up with losing and needed to buckle down on defense."
An 11-2 Butler burst cut a St. John's margin to 55-51 on Bryce Golden’s dunk with 9:23 to play. That’s when Champagnie and Alexander turned their games up a notch to lead the 10-1 run. In it, Champagnie had the first four points and a huge block on Bryce Nze. Alexander had a pair of steals, one that ended with his fast-break layup and another that led to Rasheem Dunn’s run-capping transition lay-in for a 65-52 lead with 4:34 to play. It also included an important offensive rebound by Vince Cole that led to a Josh Roberts reverse layup.
"When it was needed most those (two) made big plays – that’s what good players do,’ Storm coach Mike Anderson said of Champagnie and Alexander.
"If they made that dunk, they could have gone on a run," Champagnie said of his block. "That was us stepping into our identity. We’re not an offensive team. We’re a defensive team. . . Look at Posh - he stepped up and got big defensive stops."
Champagnie had 18 points including four three-pointers and Alexander had 10 points and three steals to pace St. John’s (7-6, 2-5). Roberts and Cole each added eight points for the Storm.
Brooklyn product Jair Bolden had 17 points and Golden had 12 points for Butler (3-7, 2-5).
Roberts got the start at center, a surprise given his limited playing time since the Big East portion of the schedule started. Arnaldo Toro started the last three games and Isaih Moore the two before that. Roberts had one Big East start and had played in only four of the first six conference games, averaging 3.8 minutes. He didn’t play at all in Saturday’s loss at Creighton.
"It’s his time now," Anderson said. "He’s continued to work and stay positive."
St. John’s announced shortly before game time that Moore was inactive for what the announcement termed "not meeting team standards." Anderson said that Moore had not been at the last practice and would not specify his status for Saturday’s home game against Marquette.
St. John’s improved defensive intensity was obvious from the start, but it wasn’t until the last 2:10 of the first half until it first got breathing room thanks to Cole. He had seven points as the Storm closed the half on a 9-0 run including a 30-foot three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.