Don’t look now, but St. John’s appears to be making a bid to salvage its season.
There had been few high points along the road until recently. It seemed every week brought a disappointing performance or a near-miss against a nationally-ranked opponent. However, the Red Storm handed Butler an old-fashioned 91-57 Big East beatdown Friday night before 5,001 at Carnesecca Arena and, with Posh Alexander healthy and back to doing his thing, this may be a late surge.
This win equaled St. John’s widest margin of victory in Big East history – it topped Providence 104-70 on Feb. 15, 1999 – and gives it a first season sweep of the two-game series with the Bulldogs since 2013-14 when they entered the conference. Moreover, the Storm have won four of their last six and now stand at 15-11 and 7-8 in the Big East with four regular-season games left. Two games are against teams they’ve already defeated (DePaul and Xavier) and one is a chance for payback against Creighton at Carnesecca, where they play so well.
The idea that St. John’s would have a shot to finish over .500 in conference play seemed unfathomable a few weeks ago, but if it keeps playing like it did in winning at Xavier Wednesday and against Butler (13-14, 6-10) it seems feasible.
"They understand defensively what we’re trying to do . . . it’s coming together at the right time," Storm coach Mike Anderson said. "It’s a process. You don’t just throw a bunch of guys together and it all starts happening."
"We’re still behind in the race," Anderson added. "The only way we’re going to catch up is to outrun the guys in front of us. There’s still work to be done."
Julian Champagnie was stellar with 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting with five three-pointers and added seven steals and seven rebounds without committing a turnover to lead St. John’s. Aaron Wheeler had 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting including four three-pointers and Alexander had 13 points and 10 assists and was clearly the driving force in this win.
Alexander, who missed home losses to ranked foes UConn and Villanova earlier this month with a right ankle sprain, has played in the last four wins.
He was given a three-minute rest in the first half before returning for the final 10 minutes of it and instantly took the Storm on a 17-3 run to go up 36-23 with 3:09 in the half. During the run, which he capped with a three-point play, Alexander also had five of his assists. He sank a three-pointer – his first since Jan. 5 – at the halftime buzzer for a 46-30 lead.
"He made some unbelievable passes in that time," Anderson said. "Guys got into their gaps and he found them."
"Having him back has been wonderful," Champagnie said of Alexander. "He pushes the pace and we have to keep up because he’s the head of the train."
Butler wouldn’t get within 14 points in the second half as Champagnie scored six of the first eight Storm points after the break and went up by as much as 35.
In total it was arguably St. John’s best game of the season as it made 61% of its shots from the floor including 50 on three-pointers and held a Big East opponent under 60 points for the first time this season. Alexander was the catalyst.
"I’m glad to be back with my team," Alexander said. "They played wonderful."