Fans suggested that the last game versus Villanova could be broken into three segments.
- The first 14 minutes of the first half when Villanova led 20-19.
- The next four minutes when Villanova went on a 16-0 run and
- The entire second half which was played evenly
With an opportunity to register an impactful win against the number 15th ranked Providence Friars, fans wondered what St. Johns team would appear.
Would it be the team that competed most of the game against twelfth ranked Villanova or would it be the team that allowed the 16-0 run that left a hole too deep to recover from, even with a half to play?
“Tonight’s game is the season”, a fan stated pensively.
Two female fans of the Johnnies, having followed the team since the mid 1970’s, expressed excitement over the team this year. Yes, there were some tough losses but the emerge of Aaron Wheeler as an offensive weapon, along with their anticipated return of Julian Champagnie to his early season form was giving them hope.
With a nearly sold out Carnesecca Arena and chants, “Let’s Go Johnnies” emanating from the student section ten minutes before the tip off, the arena was electric. Six foot ten Nate Watson won the opening tap only to have Julian Champagnie step in and steal his tip.
Center Joel Soriano set a screen for Champagnie to go around, and he freed himself for a foul line jumper and a 2-0 Red Storm lead. Was the team leader back on track?
A three pointer by Noah Horchler 12 seconds later put Providence in the lead which was extended a minute later to 5-2 on a Al Durham layup.
At 17:40 in the game Posh Alexander stole the ball and it bounced away from him down the court. Montez Mathis dove for the loose ball and, laying on the ground at midcourt with a Friar wrestling with him for the ball, somehow was able to make a bounce pass to Alexander sprinting down court for a layup. The play set the tone for the aggressive play both squads would have until the final seconds of the contest.
The crowd, noisy from the start, was really engaged after the play.
At 16:20 in the game Coach Anderson replaced Champagnie with Dylan Addae-Wusu. Leaving the court, Champagnie was receiving attention from the Red Storm trainer. He was not seen for some time as he required stitches to a wound above his right eye.
The Red Storm accepted the challenge to move forward despite the absence of their leading scorer and Posh Alexander began to assert himself aggressively on the offensive end.
Alexander was often able to get by the Friar defender guarding him and, instead of driving all the way to the basket, he would pull up and take a jumper from the foul line which he began to hit.
When not shooting, he was dishing to teammates; he hit Stef Smith on the left wing and a 13-11 Red Storm lead at the 13:22 mark.
Providence went on a 10-2 run over the next five minutes taking a 22-15 lead. Esahia Nyiwe was fouled on a layup, assisted by Alexander, but missed the free throw — the first of many misses that would doom the team in the end.
Around the seven minute mark, Champagnie returned to the bench with a bandage above his right eye. Soon after he would return to the game to an applause by the fanbase.
With a minute to play the Friar lead was 37-29. A Champagnie layup cut the lead to six at 37-31. Then a Wusu steal with six seconds to play set the stage for an opportunity for St. John’s to cut the lead going into halftime. He drove to the Friar basket and was fouled going up for a layup. It was deemed a technical foul and Wusu made one out of two.
St. John’s got the ball out under the basket with four seconds to play and a chance to go into the half down three perhaps two points.
Then disaster struck. The Friars stole the inbounds pass and Jared Bynum of Providence raced down the court. He took a shot from 25 feet away and was fouled by Alexander. Bynum calmly made three of three shots and the Johnnies were down not two or three points but by eight at the half.
The Johnnies were down by eight and Champagnie had only scored four points. The Friars’ star center, Watson, was laying low in the first half with no points. Fans wondered if the two stars would erupt in the second half.
The Friars were also ready with a clear game plan for the half: feed Watson down low.
After the Friars scored to open the half, the Johnnies quickly responded with a Mathis drive and a Wheeler three from the right corner to cut the lead to five at the 18:31 mark. Posh Alexander began to take the game over, and the Red Storm cut the deficit to 45-43.
St. John’s took the lead at 51-49 on a Nyiwe dunk only to lose it 13 seconds later on a Horchler three. The Friar lead expanded to eight with 12 minutes to play but it was clear neither team was ready to give in.
The Johnnies kept battling. With 3:34 to play Soriano had the ball 12 feet out on the left wing. He hit a driving Alexander for a 74-72 lead. The Red Storm were three and a half minutes from a signature win.
Three turnovers on the next three possessions kept the Johnnies from even getting off a shot. None of the turnovers were due to pressure by the Friars — just mistakes made by the Johnnies. The lead stretched to six with 26 seconds to play. The crowd was still in their seats.
A three by Tareq Coburn and a second by Wusu were sandwiched around two Friar free throws.
The Johnnies still had a chance but the Friars’ Durham was too reliable. He made eight out of eight free throws in the final 26 seconds to seal the Friars victory, 86-82.
Providence went nine for 21 from out deep. Eight were made by two players, Bynum and Horchler, as they shot 8/12 combined. The Johnnies hit 8/24 (22%).
The Johnnies were once again outshot from out deep.
In their three Big East wins to date the Johnnies outshot their opponents from long distance, hitting 56% against DePaul, 39% against Georgetown and 42% in the victory over Seton Hall.
In the six losses the Johnnies only had a better three point performance against Providence in their first game, when Providence only hit 19%.
The Johnnies do not have a strong post game so the need to hit from out deep appears to be a determining factor in the hopes of victory. Wusu hit 3/5 last night, possibly breaking out of his recent shooting slump. Wheeler has done his fair share.
But the struggles of Champagnie are having an impact.
Posh and Champ
At the beginning of the season it was Champagnie taking over games, playing his best against the top competition, like against Indiana and the second half against Kansas.
However, there is now an uncertainty in his perimeter game. Is it possible that the injury above his eye, sustained in the third minute of the game, played a role? He was zero for four from long distance and some of his shots were open looks. Champagnie still takes down rebounds, play defense, moves the ball and will hit a few drives per game. Not the player he was but still an asset to the team.
Posh Alexander stepped up as the leader of the team. His statistics speak for themselves — 29 points and 12 assists. Add to that two steals and five rebounds and it was truly a day’s work.
Alexander appears to have added a reliable 12 to 15 foot pull-up jumper to his arsenal, which enhances his game. Due to his quickness driving to the hoop, defenders step back allowing him open looks from the foul line in particular. This evening he hit those shots.
If he can continue, teams will have to adjust and Alexander’s ability to find open teammates has the potential to unleash Champagnie, who draws the opponent’s best defender game in and game out.
The Johnnies pride themselves in their defensive effort.
One may wonder – what defense? The Friars scored 86 points against them.
In fairness, let’s take away the eight free throws by the Friars in the last 26 seconds of the game as the Red Storm played the “foul game” in hopes of getting back into the game.
The Friars typically are winning games scoring in the sixties to low seventies. But against the upbeat Johnnies, the game is different. In the first game of the season the score was 83-73.
The Johnnies were effective at times. Red Storm pressure caused a five second call, a back court violation and many rushed shots as the thirty second clock wound down.
The defensive energy was there. What may be criticized is defensive strategy at crunch time. Fouling a Friar with the shot clock in single digits, at the end of the game, was understandably criticized by some fans.
The Big East Tournament is five weeks away. Would you, as a Big East coach, want to draw the Johnnies as your opponent?
With the exception of the Creighton game and four minutes of the Villanova game, the Red Storm has been very competitive.
The emergence of Posh Alexander as team leader, may take some of the pressure off Julian Champagnie. Maybe the opponent’s top defender will not always be assigned to Champagnie.
A short time ago, Coach Anderson took Alexander out of the starting lineup for a couple of games. He entered the game ready after observing the opponent for a few minutes. Would such a strategy also assist Champagnie?
Wheeler has, for several games, showed he is an offensive force on the team. Can he make an impactful threesome with a revived Champagnie and Alexander?
Can the abysmal free throw shooting improve? Making four out of 11 attempts, like last night’s performance, will not win close games!
Many questions. On to Georgetown then Butler.