A Champagnie-less St. John’s team led for 32 minutes of the contest but stumbled late to lose, 59-57, in the team’s non-conference finale. With the cancellation of the game against Seton Hall, St. John’s opens Big East play against Butler on Thursday evening.
In the game that was originally slated as the battle of the Champagnies, in which twins Justin Champagnie and Julian Champagnie were to face off, neither brother actually played with Justin Champagnie on a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors and Julian Champagnie out with a positive Covid-19 test.
In response to Champagnie’s absence and Posh Alexander’s shooting slump, Pitt appeared to opt for packing in the paint and seeing if the Johnnies could score consistently from the perimeter. Collectively, the St. John’s shooting was consistent with how they have shot all year. The team came into this contest shooting just over 35% from deep and today combined for 4 of 11 from three. While the 5 of 12 does not include three long two’s converted by Joel Soriano and Alexander, the Johnnies both had some clean looks from deep, which they largely converted, and forced others.
Despite St. John’s success shooting the ball, the Red Storm were not able to get anything going in the paint before the half with the team shooting an uninspiring 2 of 9 at the rim and only scoring 6 points in the paint. Such issues at the rim were surprising given that the Pitt turned the ball over 11 times, compared to St. John’s 4, giving the Red Storm uncontested opportunities at the basket.
Despite holding a 10 point lead midway through the first half, St. John’s shooting went cold leading to the Johnnies going into the half up only 35-31.
After the break, Pitt big Mouhamadou Gueye’s athleticism proved to be a problem for the Red Storm. St. John’s had to keep Joel Soriano in the game because he was the only Johnnie who played decently on the offensive end in first half. However, Gueye’s athleticism regularly proved to be too much for Soriano leading to the Pitt offense looking its best when the ball touched Gueye’s hands.
For much of the half, the team struggled to get the ball in the hands of Soriano. After the midpoint in the half, however, Posh and Soriano played a two man game forcing Gueye to guard the pick and roll. Alexander efficiently read Gueye’s response, and the ball either stayed with Posh or went to Soriano depending on who Gueye after Soriano set a pick.
While the Johnnies were able to executed decent stretches of half-court offense, they were also much more careless with the ball after halftime. The ball-handlers in particular - Alexander, Dylan Addae-Wusu, Rafael Pinzon, and Stef Smith - collectively turned the ball over two times apiece in the half, giving away possessions for a team already struggling to score in the half.
The Panthers took a lead over St. John’s with two minutes to go in the game. On a fastbreak by St. John’s, Stef Smith dribbled off the catch and collided with Gueye, which somehow led the officials to make a creative call of traveling. The call put the ball back in Pitt’s hands with under a minute to go.
Ironically, Pitt’s Jamarius Burton got called for an actual travel to give St. John’s the ball back with just over 30 seconds. Posh missed his look in the paint, but Dylan Addae-Wusu was later able to tie up the game with a pair of free throws.
Burton responded with a floater of his own with a second to go, and St. John’s fell to Pitt, 59-57.
Ten second half turnovers, and missing seven of 14 possible free throw attempts were a big factor, as Pitt dictated the game as an ugly, sluggish rockfight. St. John’s shot 7 of 22 at the rim and only had 4 fastbreak points in the game.
It was a deflating end of the Johnnies’ first game in Madison Square Garden. And the third non-conference loss means that the Red Storm enter conference play needing to finish with a strong winning record to have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament this March.
St. John’s Red Storm
Dylan Addae-Wusu: 12 Points (4/9 FG, 2/5 3PT), 4 Rebounds, 2 Assists
Posh Alexander: 11 Points (5/14 FG, 0/2 3PT), 7 Rebounds, 5 Assists
Joel Soriano: 10 Points (4/6 FG), 9 Rebounds
Jamarius Burton: 20 Points (5/13 FG, 1/2 3PT), 4 Rebounds
Mouhamadou Gueye: 15 Points (4/8 FG, 1/3 3PT), 6 Rebounds, 1 Assist