It might be time to raise the bar on what St. John’s can be this season.
The Red Storm followed Wednesday night’s upset victory over No. 3 Villanova by scoring a 92-81 Big East victory over Providence on Saturday at the Friars’ 1,854-seat Alumni Hall on campus.
St. John’s (13-7, 7-6) extended its winning streak to six games, including five straight Big East wins for the first time since the 2013-14 season. It also has won its last four conference road games, something it had not done since the 1998-99 season, when it reached the Elite Eight.
The Red Storm certainly have played their way into the NCAA Tournament conversation. After being picked ninth in a preseason poll of Big East coaches, they sit percentage points out of fifth place in the conference.
"Coach [Mike Anderson] taught us to stay humble about these wins because a pat on the back could set you back," said Rasheem Dunn, who finished with 13 points and tied a career high with 10 assists. "We think each game is a big game because it’s the next game on our schedule . . . Just go in and try to get better every game."
The Red Storm had their best shooting performance of the season, making 59% from the floor, including 10-for-19 shooting on three-pointers. Despite that, after St. John’s built a 17-point lead in the first half and took a 49-41 advantage into the break, the shots stopped falling and the Red Storm fell behind 56-51 four minutes into the second half.
That’s when St. John’s rediscovered what it has been in this winning streak: a team that thrives on defensive intensity, great depth and fearlessness.
St. John’s held the Friars (9-10, 5-8) to 7-for-20 shooting with seven turnovers during the final 16 minutes, regaining control by answering Providence’s 15-2 run with a 15-1 burst.
"We were back trying to win with offense," Anderson said he told his team at the half. "Just think about it. If your defense continues to stay like we’ve been playing — and you’re shooting the basketball — man, someone is going to be in trouble. So we got a little more defense in the second half."
Leading scorers Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander almost couldn’t miss in a fast-paced start to the game. Between them, they scored the first 23 St. John’s points and shot 9-for-10. They had the first nine points in a 19-0 run for a 31-14 lead.
Champagnie had 19 of his 24 points and Alexander added 15 of his 21 points in the first half.
In the 15-1 second-half run, Champagnie had five points and Dunn and Alexander added four apiece, but it was the ensemble that finished the job. Isaih Moore scored six of his nine points and Dylan Addae-Wusu had six of his eight points in the last eight minutes.
In one stretch, Moore scored on three straight Red Storm possessions, twice on long passes Dunn rifled through the Friars’ defense into the low block. Addae-Wusu just repelled defenders on a couple of drives.
"They’re sharing, and sharing is caring," Anderson said. "They’re playing to win — that’s the bottom line . . . They play the right way, which is unselfish. And when you’re getting it from different places, it adds up. And it makes the game fun."