St. John’s basketball earns signature victory in dominance of No. 6 UConn

St. John's basketball guard Posh Alexander (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball guard Posh Alexander (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports) /

St. John’s basketball outmuscled No. 6 UConn in its first signature victory of the season. 

Toughness was not a common term to describe the St. John’s basketball team once Big East play began.

That changed after a loss home loss to Marquette, its fourth consecutive loss, where the Golden Eagles scored the most points in regulation (96) in the history of Carnesecca Arena/Alumni Hall.

St. John’s fell to Providence in its next game but it was its best showing of league play.

The team felt like it turned a corner.

After a thrashing of Butler at home, St. John’s had its best chance to prove itself as an NCAA Tournament team on the road against struggling No. 6 UConn…and it did.

“I felt like our guys have been trending in the right direction,” head coach Mike Anderson said after the 85-74 win.

“Today, we put 40 minutes together.”

The Johnnies (13-6, 3-5 Big East) were the better, tougher, and more disciplined team on Sunday afternoon in the XL Center.

St. John’s forward David Jones and UConn freshman center Donovan Clingan were both assed flagrant fouls after Clingan hit Jones with an elbow on a rebound and the DePaul transfer retaliated with a shove to the back.

That’s when the game changed and St. John’s dug in.

It looked like St. John’s was playing with the tenacity you need at Rucker Park.

“We feed off energy, man. If they wanted to play like that, we were going to come out harder,” superstar center Joel Soriano explained.

UConn (15-4, 4-4 Big East) showed it was not ready for a street fight of a game that saw four technical fouls, the two flagrants, and two ejections.

The Johnnies forced the Huskies to turn the ball over 21 times which resulted in 22 points for the Johnnies.

St. John’s would lead by as many as five, 27-22, in the first half but a 6-2 run going into the locker room was capped by a tough fadeaway from Jones would even the score at 38.

St. John’s basketball dominates behind MVP and guards

The second half was easy for the Red Storm.

St. John’s got any shot it wanted close to the basket and connected on 16-of-22 attempts (72.7-percent) on 2-point field goals.

A 9-0 run, expanding the lead to 73-60, spanning from the 7:48 mark to the 3:28 mark of the second half put the game away as the Red Storm ballooned its lead to as many as 16 points, 80-64, in the closing minutes.

The brilliant offensive showing was led by the team’s Most Valuable Player, Joel Soriano.

Soriano recorded his NCAA-leading 16th double-double of the season with 19 points and 13 rebounds as six different players scored at least 10 points.

AJ Storr and Rafael Pinzon continue to emerge as offensive stalwarts for the Johnnies as the guard duo combined for 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting and the point guard play was sensational as neither Posh Alexander nor Andre Curbelo turned the ball over in the second half.

“I thought our guard play was outstanding…[Storr and Pinzon] are more ready now. They have been battle tested,” Anderson explained.

St. John’s still has a long way to go if it wants a chance to make the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid but Sunday was the perfect place to start for the Red Storm that will go back home to make its Madison Square Garden debut on Friday night (7:00p.m. ET, FS1) against Villanova (8-10, 2-5 Big East).

“It’s a big win but hopefully there’s many more to come,” Anderson said.