With no fans in the stands at Carnesecca Arena, the St. John’s players can hear everything the other team is saying. Freshman guard Posh Alexander heard the Utah Valley players every time he touched the ball in the first half. And their words weren’t kind.
The Wolverines and their coaching staff had different variations on ‘he can’t shoot,’ ‘he won’t shoot’ and ‘he only drives,’ Alexander explained. And that was all the motivation he needed. Alexander made a pair of three-pointers as the Red Storm closed the first half with an 18-6 run before rolling to a 96-78 non-conference victory over the Western Athletic Conference’s first-place team.
St. John’s has won three of four.
"Seeing them yelling out ‘he can’t shoot!, he won’t shoot!’ and then I make a couple threes," Alexander said after pouring in a career-best 20 points to go with three steals. "Now they’ve got to guard be above the arc. . . . then I can blow past any player and score or make plays for my teammates."
Julian Champagnie took the baton after halftime, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the first 6:35 of the second half as St. John’s (9-7) moved out to a 63-48 lead that would grow as large as 86-63 in the rout.
Vince Cole had 15 points including three three-pointers, Isaih Moore had 13 points and Rasheem Dunn had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Storm. Josh Roberts continued to emerge as a back-line force with four points, seven rounds and four blocked shots. Greg Williams Jr. was unavailable to play with back discomfort.
Trey Woodbury had 23 points and JJ Overton 18 points for Utah Valley (5-6). Fardaws Aimaq, who came in with a national-best 15.1 rebounding average, had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
St. John’s was getting a lot of turnovers from the Wolverines early but wasn’t converting them into points. Utah Valley had taken a dozen fewer shots, but still led 28-27 on 71% shooting. That’s when Alexander and the Storm started their run.
"We were playing nonchalant. We weren’t playing like we did against UConn [Monday]," Alexander said. "So I felt like if I pick it up, everyone else will pick it up. . . . [Then] once we got a couple stops, we knew we [had] them. From there we kept going."
His first three-pointer made it 34-28 with 3:27 in the half. His second capped the run with 19 seconds left for the 45-34 margin at the break. Alexander also had an assist in the run and the first Storm basket after the break.
"To me it’s just confidence," Alexander explained. "Like back when I first got here, I was just getting used to . . . seeing what I could do and I wasn't really thinking about shooting the ball. I was just driving a lot. But [then] I got into the gym and I started working on my jump shot consistently and it’s just improved my game."
Alexander is averaging 14.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 steals over the last four games.
"He’s starting to figure it out," St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. "It’s different coming from high school to the Big East. All of a sudden people are coming at you. People are attacking you."
Anderson was asked if the team had turned a corner with three wins in four games and simply said "we’re getting better."
Alexander, however, explained exactly what he’s looking for.
"I just want to see us actually pick it up," he said. "I feel like we should be a 40 minute team instead of a second half team. Like starting a game playing defense, getting after it, and ending the game the same way."