The game was still in the balance and the ball was loose, within Xavier’s grasp. St. John’s seven-point lead seemed tenuous.
Out of nowhere came Posh Alexander, arching his back and reaching as far as he could for the ball. Not only did he corral it, he managed to steer it towards the rim.
It fell through the hoop. The next time St. John’s had the ball, Alexander beat the Xavier press for a basket, again extending the Red Storm’s lead to nine.
A week after Alexander came back to Earth and St. John’s six game-winning streak was snapped as a result, the standout freshman from Brooklyn soared again, leading the Johnnies to a résumé-boosting 93-84 victory over the Musketeers at Carnesecca Arena.
With the win, the 400th of head coach Mike Anderson’s career, St. John’s (14-8, 8-7) moved into fifth place in the Big East, which comes with a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Alexander, the heavy Big East Freshman of the Year front-runner, shot poorly early, missing seven of his first eight shots, but he didn’t stop shooting. He was also his typical menacing self. He scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while adding eight assists and three steals. He hounded Xavier star Paul Scruggs into a 5-for-13 shooting performance.
The Red Storm were led by many of the same stars as during the recent winning streak.
Julian Champagnie was efficient, scoring 21 points on 11 shots. The bench produced 37 points, with 16 points and nine rebounds coming from Marcellus Earlington. Greg Williams Jr. had his best game since returning from a back injury, notching eight points and three assists.
St. John’s started the first half well and closed even better. The Red Storm were up 9-4 early and finished on a 10-3 run to take a 46-38 lead into the break after a frenetic opening 20 minutes, mostly played at St. John’s pace. The teams each sank seven 3-pointers and traded several spurts.
The two star sophomores, Xavier’s Zach Freemantle and Champagnie, were each in double figures, although the St. John’s bench was the star of the opening half. It produced 20 points, with a combined 13 coming from Earlington and Williams.
After missing 11 of their first 13 3-pointers, the Johnnies got hot from deep. Earlington hit consecutive 3s and Williams added another, keying an 18-6 run that turned an early five-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
Surprisingly, St. John’s matched Xavier (11-4, 4-4) on the glass and in the paint early on, while the Red Storm’s transition game was held in check.
St. John’s pushed the lead to 13 early in the second half after another Earlington 3-pointer (his fourth in as many attempts up to that point) and the Johnnies held a comfortable 65-54 lead with 11:49 left. They couldn’t put the Musketeers away, but kept them at arm’s length. When Xavier got within six, Isiah Moore responded with back-to-back dunks to extend the lead to double figures again.
St. John’s and Pittsburgh have agreed to play in the Gotham Classic next year at Madison Square Garden, according to sources. A date has yet to be announced. The game could be a showdown between the twin Champagnie brothers, Julian of St. John’s and Justin of Pittsburgh, assuming they both return to school for their junior seasons. The duo attended Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn together, and lead their respective conferences in scoring.
“It’s exciting, that would be a cool matchup,” Julian said. “It would be a little funny, though, because I’ve never played against him like that. I think I’d laugh most of the game to be honest.”