St. John’s basketball downs Villanova sparking NCAA Tournament chase

St. John's basketball (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

Final. 59. 479. 70. 478

St. John’s basketball picked up its signature victory of the season against No. 3 Villanova. 

The NCAA Tournament is no longer a dream for the St. John’s basketball team after the Red Storm (12-7, 6-6 Big East) dominated the No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (11-2, 6-1 Big East), 70-59 inside Carnesecca Arena.

“It was the Johnnies night,” head coach Mike Anderson said following the win as his star sophomore forward Julian Champagnie expressed, “that’s what we needed.”

Villanova jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the first five minutes against the Johnnies, but it was all St. John’s after that as freshman guard Posh Alexander harassed senior point guard Collin Gillespie for the Wildcats.

Since Gillespie became the starting point guard for Villanova, he might have put forth his worst performance against the Red Storm on Wednesday night, finishing with four points on 2-of-12 shooting, missing all eight of his three-point attempts and committing seven turnovers.

“I spoke to [Posh Alexander] personally and just told him that we got the number three ranked team in the country coming in with a potential player of the year and point guard of the year and I kind of saw he took it personally,” Julian Champagnie said following the victory.

“I wasn’t surprised in how he played, but I was surprised he stuck to his word and he played and he did all that he could do to keep Collin [Gillespie] shut down.”

Gillespie was outplayed and looked overmatched against the 6-foot, 205 pound Brooklyn, New York native.

Alexander was the catalyst for St. John’s on offense, ending the night with 16 points, four rebounds, six assists, and three steals on 7-of-14 shooting and 2-of-4 from three-point range.

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“He had a phenomenal night. Whoever’s got the biggest heart, this guy might top them. He’s a leader, that’s what he is. He’s got one speed, and I think our team takes on that personality as well,” Anderson said of his point guard.

Head coach Mike Anderson saw contributions up and down its roster but the combination of Vince Cole, Isaih Moore, and Dylan Addae-Wusu put the Johnnies over the top as the trio of newcomers combined for 29 points in the victory.

“The strength of our team is going to be our bench, there are going to be teams with more talented starting-five’s than ours, but when guys come off our bench and play like Isaih [Moore] did, Marcellus [Earlington] gave us the physicality, Dylan [Addae-Wusu] came in and gave us quality minutes and how about Greg [Williams Jr.] in the five minutes he came in, you saw what he was capable of doing,” Anderson said of his reserves.

Julian Champagnie did not score in the first half, but his defense and rebounding were unfazed by his shooting struggles as the sophomore reeled in 13 rebounds and three blocks while adding 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

St. John’s forced Villanova into 17 turnovers, turning that into 19 points, as the Wildcats shot 32.3-percent from the field (20-of-62) and 26.7-percent from three-point range (8-of-30).

“We were outplayed. We knew coming in how well they were playing. They have a great plan, great defensive concepts and really share the ball offensively. They just played better than us at both ends of the floor,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said after the game.

St. John’s basketball has cause for concern after the victory but is still pleased

Despite the biggest victory in the Mike Anderson era at St. John’s, the head coach is concerned about the health of his junior guard Greg Williams Jr.

Williams Jr. came off the bench for the first time since January 18 when he injured his back in a win over UConn and the Lafayette, Louisiana native might have tweaked that injury after his poster dunk over Collin Gillespie that cut the ‘Nova lead to two in the first half.

Anderson did not put his reliable leader back on the floor after his four minutes on the court.

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However, St. John’s can now see the NCAA Tournament, it is no longer a dream, it is a realistic goal, one that Julian Champagnie never lost sight of.

“Well, we came into the season thinking that we would be an NCAA Tournament team, but…it gives us the extra push to know it’s around the corner and we’re a legit contender.”

St. John’s victory over No. 3 Villanova comes exactly three years after the Red Storm defeated No. 4 Duke at Madison Square Garden and Wednesday night was the highest ranked on-campus win for the Red Storm since 1966.

“I think we can play better,” Anderson also said following the game.

The Red Storm will have a chance to play better and pick up its sixth straight win with another road trip looming against the struggling Providence Friars (9-9, 5-7 Big East) on Saturday, February 6 at 2:00pm EST (Fox Sports 1).

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