St. John’s Downs Butler In Opening-Round Win Of Big East Tournament

Veterans Posh Alexander and Joel Soriano had dominant performances to secure the Red Storm victory.

Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan

The No. 8 St. John’s University Men’s Basketball team opened up the 2023 Big East Tournament with a 76-63 win over No. 9 Butler on Wednesday afternoon. The all-around impressive effort by the Red Storm notched a decisive win against the Bulldogs, in which St. John’s led for more than 38 minutes. 

St. John’s came out to a hot start, making six of their first nine field goal attempts. The team didn’t cool down, finishing the first half shooting 54% from the field. Overall, the Johnnies shot 40% from the field and 30% from 3-point range in the opening round. 

Butler was without two starters for the contest: center Manny Bates and guard Eric Hunter Jr. The loss of Bates, who started 26 games this season for the Bulldogs and scored 11.6 points per game, loomed large in the team’s paint presence against St. John’s. Joel Soriano, the newly-crowned Big East Conference Most Improved Player, scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for the Johnnies in Bates’ absence. 

Soriano’s paint presence is known — he took sole possession of the NCAA Division I double-doubles lead with his 24th this season — but it was the totality of St. John’s effort that allowed the team to capture a quick and lengthy lead. Junior guard Posh Alexander, who was a 24.5% 3-point shooter this season, knocked down three triples this afternoon. 

Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan

“I think people have to guard him, and now it creates space,” St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson said about the impact of Alexander’s 3-point shooting. “I think it just spaces the floor out and it allows him to get in and do the things he can do.”

When asked about why he took more 3-pointers than usual against Butler, Alexander offered one word: confidence. 

Alexander had a down year during the 2022-23 regular season, dealing with a few minor injuries and struggling to gel with guard Andre Curbelo. Alexander was playing without Curbelo against Butler, who is still in concussion protocol. The point guard shined, scoring 13 points in one of his best performances of the season. 

Butler staged a comeback attempt midway through the second half, cutting the St. John’s lead to as few as nine points. But Alexander and Soriano quickly stifled the Bulldogs’ effort with a few timely shots late in the final period. 

Freshman guard AJ Storr cemented the victory with key free throws late in the second half, capping off a performance that saw him score 15 points. “We’ve seen his confidence has continued to grow and that’s a big plus for our basketball team,” Anderson said.

St. John’s advances to the Big East Tournament quarterfinals with today’s win and will face No. 1 Marquette at 12 p.m. tomorrow. The teams last met March 4 in Milwaukee, where the Golden Eagles narrowly edged out the Johnnies, 96-94. 

“I think we just have to play our game,” Soriano said about the team’s quarterfinal matchup against Marquette. “I think if we play our style of basketball, we’ll be alright. So see you tomorrow at 12 o’clock.”