Julian Champagnie leads St. John’s to opening round win in Big East Tournament

St. John's basketball
St. John’s Red Storm guard Julian Champagnie (2) drives to the basket in the second half against the DePaul Blue Demons at the Big East Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The St. John’s Red Storm trailed by 10 less than three minutes into their first-round matchup with the DePaul Blue Demons in the Big East Tournament. Then head coach Mike Anderson called a timeout to try and rally his team.

That decision changed the trajectory of the night as St. John’s went on a 12-3 run to tie the game and eventually captured a decisive 92-73 win over DePaul to advance to the quarterfinals. The Johnnies’ performance after the timeout was a highlight reel worthy effort as star guard Julian Champagnie had 22 first-half points and the Red Storm turned the ball over just two times over the course of the 40-minute affair, which set a new Big East Tournament record for fewest turnovers in a game. 

St. John’s now has a date with the Villanova Wildcats on Thursday as part of the evening doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. 

The message of the night from Anderson was defense, defense, defense. That’s exactly what he told his team in the timeout with 16:42 left in the first half. 

“We gotta play defense. Gotta guard the yard. They’re getting layups. We’re not contesting at the rim,” Anderson said about his message to the team.  “I thought we were playing soft. And I thought our intensity picked up. That’s what, as a team, you’ve got to find somebody to help ignite that. … We’ve got to hang our hats on our defense this time of year. And with this team here, the depth — and these guys are playing quality minutes. And so you call upon them. You call upon that experience that they’ve got. And I just want to put it together at the right time.

“It’s one game. But it allows us to move on to the next round.”

Champagnie finished the night with 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. The St. John’s star guard was three points shy of the school record in the Big East Tourney. 

Stef Smith scored 13 points and was part of a bench unit that posted 40 points in the Johnnies win. Esahia Nyiwe also had a hand in that with 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench. 

It was Champagnie that helped lead the Johnnies back from the early deficit by scoring their first points out of the timeout off a layup. A stepback jumper with 16:04 left in the first half cut the DePaul lead to six. 

A three-point play with 14:02 left in the half from the guard made it a one-point game and Montez Mathis tied the game off a three-pointer moments later. DePaul briefly answered back, but Joel Soriano, Aaron Wheeler and Smith combined to open up a 26-17 lead at the half began to wind down. 

DePaul cut the lead to two before Champagnie went on a tear and scored 15 points in the final six minutes of the half. 

“It’s unbelievable to watch and you’ve got to make sure, as his teammate, to get him the ball,” Smith said about Champagnie. “And we did a really good job doing that. And we understand that he’s going to have those nights. And sometimes he might not have those nights because teams are going to focus their defense on him. We’ve just got to step up and make sure we make plays as well.”

In the second half, the Johnnies were in cruise control and never saw their lead dip below 17 points. The 92 that the Red Storm finished with were the second-most points for the school in a Big East tournament game.

“I think we’ve had a glimpse over the course of the season, we’ve had games like this,” Champagnie said. “I wouldn’t say we’re a new team. I think we’re just sticking to our identity and getting back to what Coach always preached to us in practice and staying the course and trusting each other.”