The Red Storm turned in a brilliant defensive performance and played with poise down the stretch as it dominated No. 3 Villanova 70-59 in a Big East game at Carnesecca Arena. St. John’s (12-7, 6-6) has won five straight and six of its last seven. The Wildcats (11-2, 6-1) had a nine-game winning streak halted.
Freshman point guard Posh Alexander was the driving force behind the Storm throughout the game — they outscored the ’Cats by 20 while he was on the floor — and sophomore Julian Champagnie shook off a scoreless first half and played the role of closer down the stretch.
Alexander had 16 points, six assists and three steals and did an absolute number on Collin Gillespie, Villanova’s highly-regarded senior point guard. Gillespie finished with four points, went 2-for-12 from the floor and 0-for-8 on three-pointers and committed six turnovers.
"He kind of ignites us," St. John’s second-year coach Mike Anderson said. "You can see that our guys kind of follow him. It’s kind of unusual for a freshman, but when you’ve got one that’s kind of special it makes sense."
"I told him it was the No. 3 team and the potential point guard of the year," Champagnie said. "He took it personally."
Champagnie, who came in the Big East’s leading scorer, had 12 of his 14 points in the last 7:07 when the Storm salted the win away. He also had a career-best 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. It was his fifth double-double this season.
"I was obviously frustrated at the half — I had to keep playing and do what I needed to do," he said. "I had to rebound and push my teammates to be better players."
"Their game plan was to target him, but he was rebounding, blocking shots and playing defense," Anderson said of Champagnie. "He let the game come to him."
It was as close to a defensive masterpiece as St. John’s has painted this season. Villanova was limited to 32% shooting and 27% on three-pointers. More to the point the Wildcats, who came in leading the nation with just 8.3 turnovers per game, coughed it up 17 times. The Storm turned those into 19 points.
Though the trademark of Anderson-coaches teams has been defense, St. John’s did not play it well as it tumbled to a 1-5 start in conference play. It’s improvement has fueled this run, but Anderson thought he saw signs of this performance coming before the game as he entered the locker room.
"Usually they’re jabbering about something, but this time they were quiet . . . . they were locked in," Anderson said.
Vince Cole had 12 points, Addae Wusu nine points and Moore eight points for the Storm. Caleb Daniels had 16 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 14 for Villanova.
Champagnie said this win: "Lets people know we’re legit." And thoughts now might be turning toward a possible run at the NCAA Tournament.
"We came in thinking we were an NCAA Tournament team," he said. "This gives us that extra push to be like ‘it’s around the corner and we can do this.’"