St. John’s Storms Butler Out Of Queens In 91-57 Rout

Esahia Nyiwe hangs from the rim in Carnesecca Arena.

TORCH PHOTO/ Sara Kiernan

Esahia Nyiwe hangs from the rim in Carnesecca Arena.

QUEENS, NY — St. John’s continued its run of full-strength wins with a 91-57 blowout win versus Butler (13-14, 6-10) that saw the team’s stars concurrently play their best basketball. It was the first time that Julian Champagnie, Posh Alexander and Aaron Wheeler were all healthy and at their best, and the result was the team’s largest margin of victory in a league game since 1999. 

St. John’s started the first half on the right foot for the second straight game, quickly knocking down shots against the Butler defense. Star forward Champagnie played inspired basketball in front of his twin brother, Justin Champagnie, who sat courtside for the contest. The current NBA player didn’t shy away from showing emotion on the sidelines, audibly making comical remarks in response to Champagnie’s mistakes and showing genuine excitement after key scores. 

“I haven’t seen him in months,” Champagnie said. “It gives me a little extra kick.” It was evident in his play on the court, as the forward was confident in both taking shots from deep and working in the paint with layups and jumpers. The team used a forward-heavy starting five, and the strategy continued even with in-game substitutions. 

Julian and Justin Champagnie embrace each other on the court.
TORCH PHOTO / Sara Kiernan

Butler came out firing, and kept the game tight for the early minutes of the first half. The team, led by Jayden Taylor, who finished with a team-leading 19 points, made five of nine attempts from three-point range. The effectiveness would fade quickly, and the Johnnies started to pull away with eight minutes left in the first half. In the second, Butler converted on just 3 of 15 long-range tries. 

“The price of admission is having good energy and playing hard,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said on playing in the Big East conference. “If you don’t do that, you’ll get beat by a lot because there’s really good coaches and high-level talent in this league.” 

It’s the cruel reality of playing in the toughest league in the country this year, and it’s bitten the Red Storm all too often this season, but the tides are changing. The Men’s Basketball team is 4-2 in its last six contests, and their only two losses came against ranked opponents without the services of Alexander. 

With Alexander, the difference is night-and-day in terms of the team’s offensive ability. The point guard returned around the ten-minute mark in the first half with the team facing a three-point deficit. The Johnnies then went on a 32-13 scoring run in which the offense was moving with ease, converting on both layups and jumpers from all over the court. 

Posh Alexander directs the St. John’s offense in the team’s rout of Butler
TORCH PHOTO / Sara Kiernan
(Sara Kiernan)

He’s an igniter,” head coach Mike Anderson said about Alexander’s impact on offense. “That’s what he did for our team last year and that’s what he does for our team this year.” Though he’s had his fair share of dominant scoring performances, the team is at its best when Alexander can effectively share the basketball. “He was making some unbelievable passes and guys were finishing,” Anderson noted, referencing the point guard’s ten assists that led to his third double-double of the season. 

The symbolism of this team’s triumph over scoring woes came with just seconds left in the first half. Champagnie grabbed the ball from Taylor — just one of his seven steals on the night — and passed to Alexander, who proceeded to heave up a three-pointer from near the halfcourt logo. It sailed through the rim, putting the Johnnies ahead by 16 points at the half, and was Alexander’s first made three-pointer since Jan. 5. 

Out of the break, the domination continued. The team held the Bulldogs to just nine made field goals in the second half. Everyone contributed — from Wheeler, who was efficient from distance, to Joel Soriano, who showed similar prowess in the paint — enroute to the best St. John’s win of the season. 

It’s only fitting it occurred at Carnesecca Arena, where the Johnnies have played their best basketball. “We practice here, we play here every day, the shots fall a little different here,” Champagnie said. “This is our building.” 

A noticeable improvement came at the free-throw line, where the Red Storm knocked down 10 of 11 tries. It coincided with an all-around excellent performance, but the players say it has more to do with the focus and mentality of the team than the on-court play. “It has to do with focus, and saying ‘well listen, no matter what the score is, how the game is going, locking it in and making these free throws,’” Champagnie said, “because that can be the difference in the game.”

The impressive performance secured a winning record for St. John’s, and gave the team the once unlikely possibility of a winning record in Big East play. With four games remaining — all Quad 1 or 2 opportunities, as it stands now — the Johnnies have put themselves in the position to be in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid. “It’s coming together at the right time,” Anderson said. 

It certainly won’t be easy, but the table is set for an exciting final three weeks of St. John’s basketball. The test begins on Wednesday, Feb. 23 versus Creighton, a team that blew the Johnnies out in their first contest earlier this year.