St. John’s captures signature win with beatdown of Seton Hall

Where was this all season?

Where was this defense? Where was this intensity? Where was this cohesion? Where was this focus?

For 40 minutes Monday night, St. John’s finally looked like the team its fans have been waiting for. The team that was supposed to make the NCAA Tournament and was picked to finish fourth in the Big East.

It defended at a high level. It shared the ball incredibly well. It attacked at both ends of the floor. For one night, the Johnnies looked the part in a stunning, wire-to-wire 84-63 beatdown of Seton Hall at tiny Walsh Gymnasium in South Orange, N.J., landing by far their best victory of the season.

“It just felt right with our whole team,” Posh Alexander told coach Mike Anderson as they walked into the interview room.

St. John’s-Seton Hall was played in the historical Walsh Gymnasium.
Robert Sabo

This was supposed to be a celebratory night for the Pirates, the first league game on campus since 1985. The gym was rowdy and full of 1,400 students. But they left early, as St. John’s piled it on for its first Quad 1 victory of the season.

Anderson brought Alexander off the bench and the sophomore point guard responded with a complete effort of 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a plus-22 rating in 29 brilliant minutes. Ten St. John’s players scored. Aaron Wheeler (17 points, 10 rebounds) was a two-way force, continuing his renaissance. Given an opportunity, Tareq Coburn hit three 3-pointers. Julian Champagnie struggled offensively, making 2 of 10 shots, but it didn’t matter. He contributed in other ways, with eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

Julian Champagnie
Julian Champagnie contributed in other ways despite struggling with his shot.
Robert Sabo

But this wasn’t about any one individual. This was about St. John’s (11-7, 3-4 Big East) team-wide tenacity. Its stifling defense that held the Pirates to 30 percent shooting from the field. Its attacking mentality. It owned the paint (42-18), out-rebounded bigger Seton Hall (12-6, 3-5) by six, and had 20 assists on 32 made field goals. It led by 21 points in the first half and as many as 26 in the second stanza after holding off a few Seton Hall runs.

“Our energy level was totally different than [how] we played a couple of days ago,” Anderson said. “That’s all we talked about. Guys played with multiple efforts. They trusted one another.”

Mike Anderson reacts during St. John's win over Seton Hall.
Mike Anderson reacts during St. John’s win over Seton Hall.
Robert Sabo

It was indeed a 180-degree turn from Saturday’s lethargic loss to Seton Hall at the Garden. On Sunday, Anderson sat down the entire team to watch film of the prior loss. Players spoke up as the Johnnies dissected the defeat, and identified shortcomings, such as rebounding and defense.

“Nobody took anything personal, but we were able to figure out things in that film session,” Wheeler said.

St. John’s pressed virtually the entire game. Myles Cale said the Johnnies played harder. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard called the Red Storm’s pressure “phenomenal,” and felt their pace on offense caught the Pirates off guard. It was vastly different from the first meeting. Anderson made one tweak. He went deeper into his bench for longer stretches, and his reserves scored 41 points.

Posh Alexander drives past Kadary Richmond in the first half.
Posh Alexander drives past Kadary Richmond in the first half.
Robert Sabo

“We had some guys playing a lot of minutes, and it was affecting how they played,” Anderson said.

The Pirates were within eight close to midway through the second half when the game turned. Montez Mathis scored five straight points to push the lead to 12 and kick-start a 20-4 run that included points from seven different Johnnies. The game was no longer in doubt, but that didn’t stop St. John’s from challenging every shot in the final minutes or pressuring the ball for 94 feet. The Johnnies didn’t stop until the clock hit triple zeroes.

“That’s the team,” Anderson said, “I’ve been looking for.”

He’s not the only one.

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