At this point, isn’t about whether St. John’s can pick itself off the mat. It’s about how much ferocity the Red Storm will have when they bounce back up.
The Johnnies have responded to adversity all year. Saturday night’s 81-71 victory over Seton Hall at Carnesecca Arena was their most impressive feat yet.
St. John’s trailed 18-0 less than seven minutes in and was playing without star point guard Posh Alexander. It would’ve been easy to fold.
But this team didn’t break. St. John’s merely kept fighting, attacking and outscored Seton Hall by 28 points the rest of the way.
With the come-from-behind victory, the Red Storm (16-10, 10-9 Big East) clinched no worse than the fifth seed in the upcoming conference tournament and a winning league season for the first time in six years. A win or two at the Garden next week, and the NCAA Tournament could be back in play.
Without Alexander and with Isiah Moore benched for all but three minutes, coach Mike Anderson went deep into his bench with sterling results. His reserves produced 33 points, 14 from freshman Dylan Addae-Wusu and 12 from Marcellus Earlington. Julian Champagnie led St. John’s with 22 points and six rebounds, continuing his consistent play.
St. John’s outrebounded much bigger Seton Hall, 33-32, and torched the Pirates in transition. The Johnnies limited Pirates senior star Sandro Mamukelashvili to 15 points, 17 fewer than he produced in the first meeting between the two teams. Mamukelashvili also had 10 rebounds, while Shavar Reynolds had 13 points for Seton Hall (13-12, 10-9).
The first half was bizarre. St. John’s was as cold from the start as Seton Hall was hot, missing its first 10 shots from the field. The Pirates were up 18-0 — that’s not a misprint — before the Red Storm knew what hit them.
The Johnnies did respond, answering with a 21-9 run, and got as close as six late in the first half. The bench — particularly Earlington, Josh Roberts and Jon McGriff — powered the response. It was 38-28 at halftime, giving the Johnnies a chance over the final 20 minutes.
Seton Hall’s offense found its rhythm early after many recent struggles, with 11 assists on 13 made field goals, and all eight players scoring in the opening half.
That stopped after halftime. The St. John’s defense tightened up and its offense awoke. The Red Storm scored 26 of the first 34 points after intermission, building a 10-point lead after a pair of Addae-Wusu free throws with 11:28 left.
When Seton Hall made a mini-run to get within five, the Red Storm answered with a Cole 3-pointer and Dunn drive to push the lead back to double figures. At the under-4 timeout, the edge was just six, following a 6-0 Pirates spurt. But St. John’s answered with two Earlington 3-pointers sandwiched around one by the Pirates’ Bryce Aiken, taking advantage of Seton Hall’s big lineup.