Five weeks of quality basketball. Eight wins in 10 games. Upsets of Villanova and Connecticut.
It all went up in smoke Saturday night at an empty Carnesecca Arena.
The team that played its way into NCAA Tournament consideration didn’t show up at either end of the floor. The group that started the league season 1-5 was wearing white St. John’s jerseys.
This was supposed to be a walk in the park, a soft spot in the schedule before a showdown at Villanova. Instead, it was likely a death knell to St. John’s tournament hopes, an 88-83 loss to cellar-dweller DePaul.
What a disappointment for St. John’s fans. What a momentum killer. What a poor time for the worst performance of the season.
“It’s upsetting, but I mean we’re not going to lay down,” sophomore star Julian Champagnie said. “It’s a bad loss, that’s it. We got to move on.”
An 11-point favorite, St. John’s (14-9, 8-8 Big East) was off-kilter offensively and absent defensively. It couldn’t defend the paint or score inside. The Johnnies’ trademark pressure had no impact. They made bad decisions, committed 14 turnovers, and hit just 12 of 33 3-pointers. Their bench, so effective of late, was outscored 49-32.
The defensive end, the strength of this surge over the past month, was nonexistent. DePaul shot 63 percent from the field and annihilated St. John’s, 58-18, in the paint.
“We got out-toughed, that’s what it comes down to,” Champagnie said. “They played harder. They wanted it more.”
Blue Demons point guard Charlie Moore was the best player on the floor, notching 24 points and eight assists after missing the past two games with a knee injury. Neither Posh Alexander or Rasheem Dunn could slow him down as DePaul won just its second league game of the year.
Champagnie scored 29 points, but nobody else could find it. Dunn shot 1-for-10 from the field and had six turnovers. Alexander missed seven of nine shots as St. John’s fell to 3-7 when the freshman fails to reach double figures in scoring. Dylan Addae-Wusu was 4 of 13 and Greg Williams Jr. was limited by his nagging back injury. Only Isaih Moore (16 points, six rebounds) was productive aside from Champagnie.
DePaul led 9-3 early, a sign of the 40 minutes ahead. It was up 10 at one point in the first half, and although the lead was just one at the break, it would get much worse in the second half for St. John’s.
The Red Storm missed 16 of their first 18 shots after halftime and found themselves down 14 with 12:59 left. They did get within five after two Moore free throws with 3:51 remaining, but St. John’s couldn’t get over the hump. Twice it had possession down five, but couldn’t convert, and DePaul answered on the other end of the floor.
“Our defense was not existent, not like we’ve been playing,” said coach Mike Anderson, who felt his team was looking past DePaul (4-10, 2-10) after beating them by 13 earlier in the year. “It’s one of those games where they brought the energy, the toughness. … You could tell by the effort plays — they got all the loose balls.”
There would be no miraculous comeback, just a gut-punch of a defeat that leaves St. John’s with just one option if it wants to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture.
“Next game we play Villanova on the road,” Champagnie said, “which we have to win now.”