St. John’s fends off St. Francis’ upset bid with Alexander out

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For 30 minutes, an upset didn’t just seem possible. It seemed probable. Point guard Posh Alexander — the St. John’s engine — was on the bench in street clothes and a walking boot. St. Francis Brooklyn couldn’t miss.

This was going to be the kind of early-season loss to take a chunk of air out of the St. John’s balloon.

But seemingly flipping a switch, the Johnnies found their defensive legs over the final 10 minutes. Coach Mike Anderson went to a small lineup with Julian Champagnie as his tallest player to counter St. Francis’ five-out attack. And his players, particularly Champagnie, asserted themselves down the stretch to avoid the massive upset, 76-70, at Carnesecca Arena.

Over the final 10:04, St. Francis managed just six points and two made field goals. Champagnie outscored the Brooklyn school himself, 13-6, and finished with one of the better all-around games of his career: 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and four blocks. Montez Mathis followed with 20 points and Stef Smith and Dylan Addae-Wusu, filling in for Alexander at the point, each had 10.

The rally ensured St. John’s avoided a dreadful loss, and wiped away the ugly first 30 minutes in which they couldn’t defend the perimeter, were hammered on the glass and looked to be stuck in quicksand.

SJU
Julian Champagnie dunks the ball for St. John’s.
Robert Sabo

St. John’s took its first lead since the opening minutes on a Mathis slam with 15:24 left, but St. Francis didn’t go away. Instead, the Terriers rebuilt the lead back to nine, creating anxious moments for the Johnnies and the small crowd. A 12-0 run, which included eight points from Champagnie, woke up the building, giving St. John’s a three-point edge with 5:46 to go.

Considering the mostly flat performance over the first 20 minutes, the lack of perimeter defense and poor 3-point shooting, St. John’s was in a good spot to be down by just two.

Just 6:26 in, it looked like it could be a long night. St. Francis couldn’t miss and scored 19 of the game’s first 25 points. Even after St. John’s responded with a 13-0 run to get even, a spurt ignited by the defensively active Wheeler, the winless Terriers answered with nine straight points to forge ahead again. At one point, they were 9-of-14 from distance, using their five-out approach to create mismatches and wide-open looks. They still were able to out-rebound St. John’s, 21-13, leading to a 14-2 edge in second chance points.

Without Alexander and backup point guard Rafael Pinzon (fracture in his left ring finger), Addae-Wusu and Smith were given the point guard duties. Neither acquitted themselves overly well early. Wusu had two turnovers and a minus-12 rating, as the offense far too frequently devolved into settling for long jump shots.



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