St. John’s basketball cannot hang with No. 8 Kansas in litmus test

Kansas Jayhawks guard Ochai Agbaji drives past St. John’s basketball guard Posh Alexander (0) in the first half at UBS Arena. (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
Kansas Jayhawks guard Ochai Agbaji drives past St. John’s basketball guard Posh Alexander (0) in the first half at UBS Arena. (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

The St. John’s basketball team could not hang with the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday night at UBS Arena. 

A newly opened UBS Arena was jam-packed with Red Storm fans hoping to see the St. John’s basketball team pick up its signature victory of the season against No. 8 Kansas (6-1) but things unraveled in the second half.

After the Johnnies (5-2) got off to yet another slow start, Posh Alexander brought St. John’s within five points of the Jayhawks, 30-25, before Kansas would end the half on a 13-5 run to take a 13-point lead into the intermission.

Much like its previous major non-conference game against Indiana, the Red Storm came out scorching on the offensive end to begin the second half behind star forward Julian Champagnie, who was limited to just four points in the opening 20 minutes.

St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson said he attributes the team’s slow start tonight due to nerves.

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However, it was the defensive side of the ball that would not allow St. John’s to get closer than three of Kansas in the second half.

After a pair of free throws by Champagnie cut the Jayhawks lead to 64-61, Anderson pulled his best and hottest star and saw Kansas expand its lead to eight, 69-61, before calling a timeout to put him back in.

Kansas went on an 18-3 run after Champagnie exited the game to put the game out of reach.

The Jayhawks led by as many as 22 points in the second half, winning 95-75.

Anderson, when asked about the decision after the game, said that Champagnie was “tired”.

The third year head coach of St. John’s also mentioned that he didn’t believe the game turned when Champagnie came out.

Kansas head coach Bill Self said he wasn’t surprised by the move to pull the Big East Player of the Year candidate but added that he “doesn’t think like that.”

Kansas trio creates havoc for St. John’s basketball

St. John’s had no answer for the trio of Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, and David McCormack all night long.

Braun led the way with 31 points, eight rebounds, and four assists while Agbaji led the charge in the first half where he poured in 16 of his 25 points.

McCormack, who was going to be a mismatch entering the game, proved to be too much to handle down low for the Johnnies as he ended the night with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Anderson said that his two biggest concerns entering the game were rebounding and second chance points and it proved to be very costly for St. John’s as Kansas pulled down 19 offensive rebounds which resulted in 24 second chance points.

St. John’s was out-rebounded in the game, 47-29.

The Jayhawks also generated 16 points off 17 St. John’s turnovers.

Champagnie led the way for St. John’s with 24 points while Posh Alexander, who appeared to suffer a lower leg injury, scored 16 points in the loss.

“I don’t like losing — neither do my teammates,” Champagnie said after the loss.

Alexander missed one game last week with a calf injury but Anderson said multiple times after the game that his point guard was dealing with cramps.

Dylan Addae-Wusu, who fouled out with five minutes to play, added a season-high 16 points.

Anderson received a technical foul late in the second half after he contested a non-call against St. John’s while Alexander also received a technical in the same sequence for making contact with an official, although it seemed inadvertent.

St. John’s will have a quick turnaround as the Johnnies host Fordham (6-3) on Sunday night in Carnesecca Arena (7 p.m).

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