During this time of Thanksgiving, we as Americans are blessed to have so much good fortune and one of the ways we like to express our vibrant way of life is through sports. Thanksgiving is also a time to let us know that college basketball is now in full swing and for the St. John’s Red Storm, this Thanksgiving week almost turned into a nightmarish feast on the court for the Johnnies.
Playing against local St. Francis Brooklyn, the Red Storm almost laid a giant turkey egg on Tuesday night and barely squeaked out a come-from-behind victory 76-70 against the Terriers in what should have been a tune-up nonconference game. Star performer G Posh Alexander was notably missing out of the lineup with a lower leg injury and in a walking boot on his right leg. His absence was immediately felt on the court right after the tipoff. The Red Storm attempted to imitate sleep walking en masse and for the first 30 minutes of the game St. Francis looked like they would pull a huge Thanksgiving surprise on St. John’s.
The saving grace for the Red Storm in Tuesday night’s game was the stellar performance by Julian Champagnie who had to quickly fill Alexander’s shoes all night. Champagnie responded with a great game and recorded 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and four each with steals and blocks. In essence, Champagnie stepped up and led the Red Storm to a win even though this game could have easily gone south for St. John’s. In likewise fashion, Montez Mathis also brought his “A” game to Carnesecca Arena and posted 20 points – the best game of his collegiate career so far. Subbing in for Alexander, Dylan Addae-Wusu also posted up a respectable 10 points to the cause.
The real question was how did St. Francis even stay in this game against a local Big East team? Playing aggressive ball like an on-court David trying to wipe out the local Goliath, the Terriers led by as much as 13 points in the first half and a ten point lead during the second half. During the last ten minutes of the game, the Red Storm decided to finally show up and led St. Francis on a 16-3 run with head coach Mike Anderson keeping Champagnie and four guards out on the court to run the tables on the Terriers. This strategy paid dividends as St. Francis was finally shut down and put away for good. The long term question that will linger is how did St. John’s nearly let this game get away? Playing Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis, ranked 327 and 325, respectively, has brought St. John’s down to a level where they will need to recover quickly in order to prepare for conference play – and a much higher level of competition. In his post-game conference, Coach Anderson was questioned about the feasibility of the St. John’s weak nonconference schedule and Anderson skirted around the question knowing that the Red Storm were lucky to walk away with a W when it could have easily been an early Cinderella upset. At this point, St. John’s are sitting on a 4-1 record with their only loss to Indiana and if they can recover, the Red Storm should be able to wake up and start taking care of their on-court business. St. John’s will face NJIT this Saturday and let’s see if they learned anything from the St. Francis game.