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The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Winter Break Recap: Johnnies at 10-6, 2-3 BE After 18-Day COVID-19 Pause

Missed the Johnnies over the holidays? Here’s what you need to know.
Posh Alexander sad on the court defeated.
TORCH PHOTO/ Sara Kiernan

As St. John’s students prepared for and took their final exams, an outbreak of the COVID-19 would derail the start of Big East conference play. Due to the highly-transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant, a cascade of positive tests across the league forced the Big East to modify its seemingly harsh cancellation policy. St. John’s was not immune to the outbreak. When students took their winter break, the Red Storm Men’s Basketball team did as well: the team would encounter positive tests that resulted in an 18-day pause in play. 

 

Dec. 16: Gotham Classic Headliner Canceled Due To Seton Hall’s COVID Issues

Two days before Seton Hall vs. Iona and St. John’s vs. Pittsburgh were set to tip off in the Gotham Classic doubleheader, COVID-19 issues within the Seton Hall program forced the cancelation of the marquee matchup. Despite Iona head coach Rick Pitino’s hilariously public request for a new competitor, no team was available to join the tournament on such short notice. 

 

Dec. 18: Julian Champagnie Tests Positive, Faces Mandatory Ten-Day Quarantine

Merely two hours before tip-off in the St. John’s vs. Pittsburgh game, it was reported that star forward Julian Champagnie was positive for COVID-19. A member of the St. John’s athletic department reported a positive coronavirus result, thus the entire Men’s Basketball team was tested. 

Though Champagnie was asymptomatic, he was required to quarantine for ten days following the test, leaving him ineligible for the game. The entire St. John’s team is vaccinated, in accordance with the University’s vaccine mandate, according to the New York Post.

St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said the team was notified a few days earlier, significantly shifting the game plan. “That’s the adjustment for a team,” Anderson said. “That’s one of your leading scorers [that can’t play], but I told our guys someone else has to step up.”

 

Dec. 18: St. John’s Drops The Gotham Classic Finale, 59-57, at Madison Square Garden

St. John’s fell to Pittsburgh 59-57 in their first game at Madison Square Garden with fans since the cancelation of the 2020 Big East Tournament. In the midst of another COVID-19 outbreak in sports, the Gotham Classic finale was not left untouched. 

Anderson replaced Champagnie with Aaron Wheeler and left the starting five around him untouched from previous contests. The group started off both slow and inefficient on offense, battling at the glass on both ends of the court. By the end of the contest, St. John’s was downright embarrassed by a largely unthreatening Pittsburgh team. 

 

Dec. 20: Big East Opener vs. Seton Hall Canceled Due to Issues Within Pirates’ Program

The next scheduled St. John’s game was canceled due to Seton Hall’s COVID-19 outbreak. Per Big East rules in place at the time, St. John’s would have been assessed a win in the standings while Seton Hall received a forfeit loss. Each team is required to have seven scholarship players eligible for a game to be played, according to the rules the conference put in place prior to the 2021-22 season. 

 

Dec. 20: DePaul Athletics Releases Scathing Statement Against Big East Policy

“The current Big East forfeit policy was put in place and was supported during a different phase of the pandemic,” DePaul University athletic director DeWayne Peevy said in a statement. “We did everything possible to play this week, even if it meant dressing the minimum five players.” 

That’s right. The DePaul Men’s Basketball program was so opposed to the forfeit losses that would be assessed in the case of a COVID-19 cancelation that it was willing to use the minimum five players for all 40 minutes of the contest. The scathing remarks from DePaul University leadership set the tone for the member schools in the Big East against the outdated forfeit policy.

Even St. John’s, who was set to benefit from the forfeits on paper, had something to lose due to the existing policy. That’s because all cancelations would do for the Johnnies is help with Big East Tournament seeding. The Monday, Dec. 20 matchup would have been a Quad 1 game that would have supported the Red Storm’s strength of schedule. Instead, St. John’s was set to lose that high-priority matchup with a forfeit win.

 

Dec. 23: Big East Announces Changes to COVID Cancelation Policy

In response to a slew of cancelations across the league, the Big East reversed course and offered the possibility of rescheduled games. “Under the modified policy, a Conference game will be canceled in the event a school has fewer than seven scholarship players and one countable coach available for a game,” it was announced in a statement. “The BIG EAST Conference Office will attempt to reschedule any such game(s) in accordance with parameters approved by BIG EAST Directors of Athletics.” 

In the event a game cannot be rescheduled, it will be designated as a no-contest rather than a forfeiture. As part of the announcement, any game previously designated as a forfeit would be rescheduled for a later date. 

 

Dec. 23-27: Three Games Postponed Due To St. John’s COVID Outbreak

On Dec. 23rd it was announced that COVID-19 issues within the St. John’s program forced the cancelation of a home game versus Butler. It was never confirmed which players tested positive, but due to the new Big East protocols, we can say that at least four to five players tested positive in addition to Champagnie. 

Since the policy was changed, there was no reason for St. John’s to delay canceling games. On Dec. 27th, the athletic department announced that the program’s next two games would be canceled against Marquette and Georgetown. It would be a total of 18 days since the team’s last game against Pittsburgh before the Johnnies would take the floor again, including a total of four postponements. 

 

Jan. 5: St. John’s Returns With A Win In Big East Opener vs. DePaul

It had been 18 days since the Red Storm took the court against DePaul, a program on the rise. It had been even longer for Julian Champagnie, who hadn’t felt the hardwood in 24 days. Neither Champagnie nor the team disappointed in their return to action in the Big East opener. The junior had a career-best night, with 34 points to go along with 16 rebounds in the win. Both were career-highs despite being on the shelf for over three weeks. 

In a surprise improvement from prior outings, the team shot 55.6% from deep. Despite a closely-played contest, strong efforts from the starting five would eventually secure the 89-84 victory. 

 

Jan. 8: St. John’s Lags Behind Providence in First Conference Loss

In a tough away game in Rhode Island, the Johnnies couldn’t close out the game after leading by as much as seven points in the second half. It was a well-played game against the No. 16 Providence team, everywhere except from the free-throw line. The Red Storm went just 8-for-17 on their tries while the Friars knocked down 26-of-30, proving to be the difference in the game. 

Julian Champagnie again went cold for St. John’s, scoring just 11 points and failing to net a single three-point basket. It was just his second game since returning from quarantine, but due to his breakout return against DePaul, the regrettable showing seems to be more of the same this season. Champagnie has the potential to take over games with seemingly little effort, but can go cold just as easily. 

 

Jan 8: University President Catches COVID-19 At Providence Loss

In President Brian Shanley’s welcome address to students ahead of the spring semester, sent out by email, he revealed that he was positive for the coronavirus. Shanley claims that he caught the virus while traveling to Providence for the Men’s Basketball game. The acknowledged spread of COVID-19 supports students’ concerns about University restrictions on campus alongside the continued travel of Division I sports teams. 

 

Jan. 13: The Red Storm Take The Huskies To Overtime, But Fall 86-78

The Johnnies broke through deficit after deficit on their way to an overtime loss in Storrs, 86-78. Despite being down double digits on the road, the team managed to take the lead on a Champagnie three-pointer with four seconds in regulation. The team fouled Adama Sanogo, in a night where they committed 26 total fouls, and Sanogo knocked down one of two shots to tie the game up. A quick 11-0 run by Connecticut in overtime ended the game.

 

Jan 19: St. John’s Embarrassed By Creighton, Winless On The Road

Which came first? Creighton’s rain of three-point baskets or the Johnnies’ inability to defend the perimeter? Regardless, the Men’s Basketball team couldn’t secure arguably their most realistic shot at a Quad 1 win thus far, losing 87-64 to Creighton. 

Throughout the first half – and even the meaningful minutes in the second – Julian Champagnie was negated by Alex O’Connell. Champagnie struggled to get on the board while O’Connell was on his way to a career night, scoring 28 points on nine three-point baskets. The entire Creighton team made over half of their three-point attempts as St. John’s missed defensive assignments. 

The bright spot, once again, was Aaron Wheeler. The transfer forward had 16 points on seven-of-ten shooting, solidifying his development over the last four games. 

 

Johnnies In Peril Ahead Of Showdown With Seton Hall On Jan. 22

Many hoped that this season would be the Men’s Basketball team’s return to the big dance, but that seems more unlikely with each game that passes. In the deepest Big East conference since the realignment, the Johnnies’ are a few paces behind the best in the league. While they can stack up against bad teams – see the non-conference schedule – they’ve never shown they can beat good teams, let alone great teams. The clock is ticking for the Johnnies to turn around their season, and it starts on Saturday, Jan. 22 in a metropolitan showdown with Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden.

 

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About the Contributor
Brady Snyder
Brady Snyder, Editor-in-Chief
Brady is a senior journalism student currently serving as Editor-in-Chief. He joined The Torch in 2021, and previously served as Sports Editor. Outside of The Torch, Brady covers consumer technology and new innovations for ScreenRant, where he has nearly 100 published articles. When he isn’t writing, Brady is usually running or catching a sporting event. Brady can be reached at [email protected]
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