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St. John’s rallies but falls at Indiana, 76-74

The Johnnies were discombobulated in the first half, but stepped up in the second to get within striking distance - but the win was elusive.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Indiana
Posh Alexander tries to get a loose ball back
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Are there moral victories? Or just disappointing halves?

St. John’s will look back on the missed opportunities in their 76-74 loss to Indiana, the first win for the Big Ten in this year’s Gavitt Games (a Big East/ Big Ten challenge week). St. John’s falls to 2-1 on the season, and have Fairleigh Dickinson up next on Saturday.

The Red Storm’s trip to Indiana’s Assembly Hall revealed some work to do for the team, but also showed some of their talent against a Hoosier team that brought physicality and defensive quickness to what became an extremely intense game.

St. John’s first half was filled with the kind of struggles that are associated with a team bothered by the environment. The second half, while not perfect, saw the Red Storm effort most expected in this game.

St. John’s started well enough; Indiana was looking for open shots and taking three-pointers early. But soon, Indiana, despite struggling to score, found their footing on defense. A 9-0 run gave the Hoosiers an early advantage. while shots were not falling for Champagnie and Tareq Coburn.

The intensity was there, but the execution was a struggle.

Indiana’s ability to switch and get into the lane before the Johnnies was key — as was their ability to use their quick hands to dislodge the ball from Red Storm ballhandlers.

A 1/11 stretch was further punctuated by two huge negatives for the Red Storm: Posh Alexander’s second personal foul at the 13-minute mark, and a surprising Flagrant-2 foul on Montez Mathis, which meant the starting guard was ejected from the game at the 6-minute mark.

[Not even the announcers agreed with the flagrant, committed when Mathis fouled a streaking Trey Galloway after a Galloway steal. Galloway was near the basket, and Mathis fouled his arm; Galloway fell awkwardly to the floor.]

Champagnie could not find a rhythm. Despite some solid contributions from Rafael Pinzon off the bench, the Johnnies struggled to string together stops. The Red Storm had uncharacteristic turnovers all half. Freshman guard Tamar Bates of Indiana made the most of his opportunities. (And the fans, in full throat, were yelling “sloppy seconds” at Stef Smith. Stay classy, Hoosiers.)

But the second half started with a 10-2 run — where St. John’s forced a pair of offensive fouls, played with more poise. Stef Smith, Julian Champagnie, and the Johnnies’ swarming defense started come up big. Another 7-0 run got the Red Storm closer. Keeping the Hoosiers from stringing together more than five points in a row brought the Red Storm within three.

But could the Johnnies make road magic happen, with quiet games from the likes of Aaron Wheeler and Tareq Coburn?

With the Johnnies getting closer, the 6’6” Rafael Pinzon got his hand on a carom off a Champagnie miss, and soon let loose with a three, successfully. Posh Alexander drew a foul, made two foul shots, and tied the game with a pair of free throws.

But Indiana’s less heralded guards Jordan Geronimo (from New Jersey) and Khristian Lander led Indiana out of trouble with a pair of scores; at the end of a 9-2 run, the unheralded Geronimo added seven, and left the game to an ovation from the crowd.

It wasn’t over, despite Tareq Coburn spending the half on the bench in favor of freshman Rafael Pinzon. Hoosier foul trouble gave Smith and Champagnie more points at the line, and a Soriano post touch led to a pass to Champagnie to tie the game once more.

The team stayed close, but Race Thompson’s offense and Trayce Jackson-Davis’ defense kept the Red Storm from getting over the hump. Within two points, Pinzon brought the ball up, but the flow was disrupted by Indiana’s defense; Julian Champagnie’s long three was off by just enough, and Indiana came away a 3-0 winner.

Champagnie led all scorers with 32 points. Trayce Jackson-Davis led Indiana with 18 and 10 rebounds; three other Hoosiers ended in double figures.