The loss without star Champagnie comes amid a slew of Big East COVID positives.
St. John fell to Pittsburgh 59-57 in his first game at Madison Square Garden with fans since the Big East 2020 tournament was cancelled. In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak once again in the sport, the Gotham Classic final wasn’t left intact.
Saint John’s first match at Madison Square Garden was eerily reminiscent of Saint John’s last match at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. Two days before the Gotham Classic was scheduled to end, it was announced that problems within the 16th Seton Hall basketball program would force the cancellation of the Seton Hall-Iona match at 3pm on Saturday.
Just hours before receiving a tip-off, it was reported that Saint John star Julian Champagne had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be available for the noon game. St John’s coach Mike Anderson said the team was notified a few days in advance, which led to a major change to the game’s plan. “Anderson said. This is one of your best scorers [that can’t play], but I told our men that someone else had to come forward.”
Anderson replaced Champagnie with Aaron Wheeler and left the starting five around him as from previous competitions. Both slow and ineffective in attacking, the group fought back with glasswork on both ends of the field. After four minutes of play, the two teams tied with only six points each.
He came off the bench early after the Red Storm reserve scored vital points in the team’s latest win over Colgate. Joel Soriano entered the match early in the first half and played a better defense. This defensive presence constituted a long two-point attempt for Soriano – a shot he wouldn’t normally take – and knocked it down.
By the end of the first half, Soriano led the team with two points (eight) and rebounds (four). After a period of poor performance, Soriano’s paint defense against a Pittsburgh team physically was a welcome effort. The defense across the board was dominant in the first half, making 11 turns, but the attack struggled to capitalize. Leading by as much as ten points, St. John closed the half with a three-point lead.
When Johnnies came back from the locker room, it was pretty much the same. The team struggled to find an offensive rhythm and only kept close to a solid defense. Even this was far from perfect. The team forced 18 turns throughout the afternoon but scored only nine points from the resulting possession.
““When we were getting a turn, we didn’t go out on the open floor,” said goalkeeper Bush Alexander. “We will slow it down and not look forward [for our teammates]. “
St. John’s sprawled as he didn’t score for minutes against a largely non-threatening Pittsburgh side since Justin Champagne – Julian’s twin brother – was drafted by the NBA over the summer. The effort’s fatal flaw was at the free throw line, with Junior shooting only seven out of 14 for a paltry 50 percent mark.
After the second half back and forth where each team exchanged scoring rounds, the two teams tied with 55 points with two minutes remaining in the organization. Shortly after the Red Storm defense prevented Pittsburgh from scoring, Steve Smith bumped into a defender around the middle of the field. Officials ruled it a travel violation and Johnny lost a chance in possession of the match late. In his post-match media conference, Anderson admitted he was unhappy with “more than a few calls”, but could not comment on his takeover.
Pittsburgh made two free throws and Saint John regained the ball in just 16 seconds on the clock. After burning eight seconds off the floor, Dylan Ade-Wusu fouled and proceeded to drop two free throws to tie the match back at 57.
Johnnies didn’t press inside, and Pittsburgh finished the match with a lackluster two-point jump. ““I thought we couldn’t let the guy walk a straight line, but he made a play,” Anderson said. “When you let a team hang out, it comes back to bite you, and it did.”
John’s next scheduled game has already been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak at Seton Hall. According to Big East rules, St. John’s win in the standings will be evaluated while Seton Hall will receive a forfeited loss. Each team is required to have seven scholarship players eligible to play a game, according to rules established by the conference prior to the 2021-22 season.
All the Johnnies do is help rank the Big East Tournament. Monday, December 20th match could have been a 4×1 game that would underpin the Red Storm’s power schedule. Instead, St. John’s will now open the Big East Conference play on Thursday, December 23rd opposite Butler at the Carnesecca Arena.