St. John’s Makes Their Bench Presence Felt in 82-64 Win vs. Colgate

Julian Champagnie becomes 52nd St. John’s player to score 1,000 career points

Freshman guard Rafael Pinzon talks to starters Montez Mathis and Posh Alexander in their Dec. 12 game versus Colgate.

TORCH PHOTO/ Sara Kiernan

Freshman guard Rafael Pinzon talks to starters Montez Mathis and Posh Alexander in their Dec. 12 game versus Colgate.

St. John’s defeated Colgate on Sunday afternoon in the second game of the Gotham Classic, 82-64. The win was powered by a bench performance that featured 11 different players on the floor and eight scoring points for the Johnnies. 

Both teams started out slow in the noon start of Sunday’s game with missed shots on both sides of the court. But at the first media timeout, the score was tied at just six points each. Following the timeout, a slew of St. John’s substitutions revitalized the team that shot out to a ten point advantage they would hold for the better part of the half. 

First came Joel Soriano and Stef Smith off of the bench out of the timeout, but Colgate pushed out to a six point lead on excellent three-point shooting. That made St. John’s coach Mike Anderson put in the team’s backup point guard, Rafael Pinzon, who quickly brought energy to the floor. 

Pinzon sank a three-point goal less than a minute after entering the game and followed with a two to trim Colgate’s lead to one point. From that point on, it was all St. John’s. Smith threw up a three-pointer to give the Red Storm the lead and they didn’t look back. 

Everyone got involved, from regulars like Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander to depth pieces like Aaron Wheeler and O’Mar Stanley. By the end of the first half, eight players had scored points for St. John’s enroute to an 11-point lead as the Johnnies headed back to the locker room. 

The lead may have been larger if not for efficient three-point shooting from the Raiders, who made seven three-pointers in the half. It’s part of a season-long perimeter defense issue for the Johnnies, who have routinely allowed opponents to shoot a 40 or even near 50 percent clip from behind the arc. 

Colgate in particular has demonstrated an ability to convert deep takes at efficient rates, though. The team returns seven of their eight top scorers from an NCAA tournament team last season. In their signature win versus Syracuse this season, they were powered by 18 made three-point baskets. 

Champagnie took with him an important career milestone, as a first-half three-pointer solidified the junior as the 52nd player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. “It’s exciting to join a great list of guys who did that here,” Champagnie said in a post game media conference. “I do take pride in it, but it’s onto the next game.”

He was the second player this season for the Red Storm to reach the career milestone, joining Tareq Coburn, who reached the total while playing for St. Bonaventure, Hofstra and St. John’s. 

It was one in a string of three-pointers for Champagnie, who clearly had a feel for his shot against Colgate. He came out firing in the second half, helping the team extend their lead with the help of much better defense by the Johnnies. 

It started with points in the paint, with Mathis, Alexander and Addae-Wusu driving to the basket and pulling up jump shots. That opened up room for Champagnie and others behind the arc, who converted to extend the lead to as large as 23 points with under four minutes remaining. Champagnie had five made three-point goals on his way to 19 total points, leading the Red Storm. 

But aside from the successes on offense that we’ve seen since the loss to No. 8 Kansas — a strong scoring presence in the paint and more efficient shooting from distance — the defense helped contain Jack Ferguson in the second half. Ferguson took and made less shots, all of which were from three-point range. “I thought that was the difference in the game,” Anderson said. 

That roughly cut his production from the first to second halves in half. With the Raiders’ leading scorer Nelly Cummings unavailable for the contest, that was all St. John’s needed to pull away in the game. 

The ball handling was much more controlled against Colgate by a mix of Alexander, Addae-Wusu and Pinzon. The freshman guard Pinzon had the best game of his collegiate career, scoring a high of 14 points. “He won’t back down,” Anderson said. “He’ll screw up and make a mistake, but he won’t back down from anybody.” 

In the short term, it led to a season-low six turnovers in the game. In the long term, Anderson says Pinzon will only help the team more as he gains more college basketball experience.

The bench in total provided a much needed boost to the team, both in the way of scoring and in the way of rest for St. John’s starters. They scored 34 total points for the Red Storm, compared to just eight for the Raiders. “Coming off the bench it’s important to make an impact immediately and that’s not always [by] scoring,” said the graduate forward Aaron Wheeler. “Bringing energy is important.”

The energy from Wheeler himself was important, as he didn’t see the floor in last Thursday’s game versus Monmouth. “He has a lot of potential and he brought it to the game today,” Anderson said. “That’s what we expect out of him and the key is going to be consistency.”

Consistency is something that St. John’s seems to have found following the tough loss versus Kansas. “After the Kansas game, we knew we had to fix some things and pick it up to play the basketball we know how to play,” said junior forward Champagnie. The Johnnies held the lead for 83.5 percent of the game and that’s been the norm in the three games since the loss at UBS Arena. 

St. John’s will have one more chance to refine their game — at Madison Square Garden versus Pittsburgh on Saturday, Dec. 18 in the Gotham Classic finale — before they face one of the better Big East conference slates since realignment.