Julian Champagnie succinctly described St. John’s situation well Saturday night.
“Next game we play Villanova on the road, which we have to win now,” the sophomore star said.
That’s what the ugly loss to DePaul at home did to the Johnnies’ now-fading NCAA Tournament hopes. Losing to the worst team in the Big East put them in an incredibly difficult position, facing a must-win game on the road against the premier team in the conference.
A win Tuesday (8 p.m.; TV: CBSSN; radio: WNYM 970 AM) in Philadelphia gets them back in the mix. Anything less, and St. John’s has to likely win the Big East Tournament or at least reach the title game. Pulling off the upset will not be easy. It is an 11-point underdog against the eighth-ranked Wildcats, who will be out for revenge after losing at St. John’s by 11 on Feb. 3.
“They’ve responded throughout the year, so I expect them to respond the right way [again],” coach Mike Anderson said. “It’s a great opportunity, it’s a great challenge. We’ll find out a bit more about our basketball team.”
For a few hours Monday afternoon, there was some doubt whether the game would even be played, according to sources. There was a positive test of a member of the St. John’s athletic department and contact tracing followed. Fortunately, everyone was cleared and made the trip.
The focus will need to be on the defensive end, after St. John’s (14-9, 8-8) was overwhelmed in the paint by DePaul and allowed the Blue Demons to shoot a blistering 63 percent from the field. During the Red Storm’s strong five-week performance before that loss, during which they won eight of 10 games, defense carried them.
In the victory over Villanova, St. John’s held the Wildcats to 32.3 percent shooting from the field and forced 17 turnovers. Star point guard Collin Gillespie committed a season-high six turnovers and scored a season-low four points. He was locked down by Big East Freshman of the Year front-runner Posh Alexander, who like many of his teammates, struggled immensely against DePaul.
“We have to come out with the right mindset,” senior guard Rasheem Dunn said. “We got away from our identity, which is defense, and DePaul attacked us. We can’t dwell on it. That game is over.
“I expect us to go out there and play with our identity, just being the total opposite of what we were on Saturday.”
Junior guard Greg Williams Jr., whose lower-back injury flared up against DePaul and limited him to 10 minutes, is expected to play against Villanova, according to Anderson. He has practiced fully the last two days.