It’s taken a long time — some might say too long — but St. John’s may have figured out what it’s going to take to win in the Big East this season.
The Red Storm played arguably its best game of the season to-date on Saturday in Providence and still lost. On Tuesday night they kept it up and it paid its first dividends in the form of a 77-61 Big East victory over Butler before 3,536 at Carnesecca Arena. St. John’s five-game losing streak is over.
“We finally got over that wall that was in front of us,” said 6-11 Joel Soriano, who had 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting and 10 rebounds for his Division I-leading 15th double-double of the season. “Providence is where we took a step forward . . . To be a contender we need to play great defense.”
The Storm needs to be playing well right now more than ever — the next game is Sunday at sixth-ranked Connecticut.
Soriano was again been the big numbers guy for St. John’s (12-6, 2-5) but Andre Curbelo and Rafael Pinzon — both Long Island Lutheran products who came off the bench Tuesday — may have been the big difference-makers against the Bulldogs (10-8, 2-5).
Curbelo had 11 points, six assists and four steals and Pinzon had 10 points including two three-pointers. The Storm was plus-20 during Curbelo’s 26 minutes on the floor and plus-14 during Pinzon’s 23 minutes.
Curbelo and Posh Alexander had 10 of the Storm’s 16 steals.
“We’re both good defenders,” Alexander said. “When we lead the pack . . . it boosts everybody.”
“When those two are clicking like they were tonight and their big fella is playing well inside, they’re a really good team,” Bulldogs coach Thad Matta said.
Pinzon has dealt with injuries and illness during much of his two seasons, but he has really made an impression on his teammates. “He shoots the hell out of the ball and he brings the energy,” Soriano said.
“He’s a big-time players and a great scorer and shooter,” Alexander said. “We love it when he’s on the court.”
AJ Storr added 12 points including two three-pointers for St. John’s. “We’re starting to become a more-balanced team,” Storm coach Mike Anderson said. “We didn’t get rewarded at Providence . . . but we’ll take this one.”
Chuck Harris had 17 points to lead Butler. The Bulldogs, however, were truly stymied by the Storm defense, which held them to 41% shooting for the game and forced them into 22 turnovers — 10 above what they average.
St. John’s took a 39-29 lead into halftime due to major contributions from Soriano, Curbelo and Pinzon.
Soriano had 14 of his points on 7-for-8 shooting including a pair from more than 15 feet out. He had 10 points when the game was tied at 15 after about eight minutes.
The catalysts that helped the Storm get that lead were Curbelo and Pinzon, who came in to take over the backcourt spots. They were the guiding force in an 11-3 run. Curbelo helped get it going with a lob to Soriano for an alley-oop and a steal that led to his own basket. Pinzon capped it by finding David Jones for a three-pointer and making a pull-up jumper for a 26-18 lead.