It had been 18 days since St. John’s men’s basketball last played a game, and 24 since Julian Champagnie took the court. Rust was to be expected — fatigue, too. Expected, but not guaranteed. Champagnie made sure of it.
The junior, who came into the night the second-best scorer in the Big East, claimed the top title Wednesday night, dismantling DePaul and helping St. John’s earn its first conference win of the year, 89-84 over the Blue Demons at Carnesecca Arena.
Champagnie, who missed the last game because he was in COVID-19 protocols, scored a season-high 34 points, with a career-high 16 rebounds and three blocks. DePaul’s Javon Freeman-Liberty, the erstwhile Big East scoring leader, had 24.
"When I came back from quarantine, I was in the house doing the bike, so I kind of had a little of a head start," Champagnie said. "Coming into quarantine, I jumped right into my workout. The first day out, I was in the gym for four hours …Getting into the gym, getting my rhythm back and my shot back helped me push forward, and also my teammates. None of that is possible without my teammates believing in me."
St. John’s lost an 11-point first quarter lead but regained it midway through the second, and went 11-for-18 from the field. Though the Storm struggled from the line, shooting 56%, it was nonetheless a promising effort after their last three games were rescheduled by COVID. It’s their ninth straight win at home, improving them to 9-3, 1-0. DePaul (9-4, 0-3) dropped its third in a row.
Posh Alexander, who was wearing a boot pregame, came off the bench for the first time in his Red Storm career, and did thorough work putting a lot of worries to rest. He scored 16 points with four assists, and though he had to temporarily leave the game limping in the second half, he returned later and didn’t seem any worse for wear.
"I’m proud of our guys — the effort coming off a pause," coach Mike Anderson said. "We haven’t practiced together in 18, 19 days as a team but to come out and play against a DePaul team that has some games under their belt and we found a way to win … When you have a guy with the kind of night Julian had, it’s kind of like he refused to let us go down."
St. John’s took the lead early in the game, and though it didn’t relinquish it in the first half, it couldn’t create any distance until the final few minutes, when a 9-0 run put the Red Storm up 32-21 — a stretch punctuated by Montez Mathis’ steal and dunk with 5:06 left. DePaul scored seven of the next nine, getting them to within six. Aaron Wheeler hit a layup to break a 2 minute, 33 second St. John’s scoring drought, but that did little to stem the 12-3 Blue Demons’ run. Alexander’s layup as time expired did manage to put the Red Storm up 39-35 at the break.
The lead could have been far bigger, as St. John’s missed three from the stripe in the first half and went 3-for-19 on layups against an admittedly large DePaul team. The lost points did end up temporarily costing them in the second, as the Blue Demons continued their war of attrition, and finally took their first lead since the first minute on David Jones’ slam dunk with 14:11 to go — putting them up 54-53. That was part of a 17-4 scoring run that eventually gave DePaul the 60-55 advantage.
The Red Storm finally tied it at 63 with 9:20 left and took the lead on Montez Mathis’ dunk. Champagnie, who all but took over in the second half, scored five straight to bump the advantage up to 78-72.
Georgetown game rescheduled: St. John’s Big East matchup at Georgetown, originally scheduled for Feb. 21, has been moved to Thursday, Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. The game will be nationally telecast on FS1.