There was fatigue. There was rust. But most importantly, after 18 days of work, Julian Champagnie is back.
That was enough for St.John on Wednesday night.
In his first game in about a month, Champagne looked like every American. It was not rusty. He showed no fatigue. And he led the Red Storm to a 89-84 win over DePaul against the Big East and burned the Blue Devils with 35 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. Champagnie sank deep jumpers, went to the basket and reached the free pass line.
It was an important victory for St. John (9-3, 1-0 in the Great East), before the Red Storm COVID-19 escalated, losing to Pittsburgh on December 18 without Champagnies. St. John had to create some momentum next Wednesday with road games against Providence No. 16 (Saturday) and Connecticut).
Champagnie, with the help of Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu, made sure the Red Storm didn’t start with a defeat in the conference game. After a slow start, Alexander finished with 16 points and four assists, while Addae-Vusu recorded 17 points and eight assists. With 28.4 seconds left, Addae-Vusu took the score to 6 with a 3-point shot.
Javon Freeman-Liberti scored 24 points for DePaul (9-4, 0-3).
Alexander came out hot from the break, hitting 3 points in a row. Champagnie followed DePaul with a key shot that seemed to wake him up. The Blue Devils scored 14 of 16 points and went ahead for the first time since the start of the first half, remaining 54-53, 13:50. Simultaneously, they hit 10 of their first 15 shots on the field in the second half.
The Blue Devils, led by five men, responded with Montez Mathis fuel before St. John to regain the 10-2 lead. Champagnie dominated in the final minutes and took control of it from there. His top 3 points gave St. John a six-point lead with 4:34 left, which didn’t give up the advantage.
Considering the long-term dismissal and the inability to complete the basket (St. John made just 3 of 19 layoff attempts), the Red Storm were at a solid point with a four-point advantage at the break. They led 11 of the 9-0 running power, which ended with Mathis stealing and hitting, and took a strong product from Champagnie.
The young star has scored 13 points in his first move since Dec. 12 and added seven rebounds in the first half. Six of the eight Johnny’s scored and Soriano continued from where he stopped in the game against Pittsburgh, scoring four points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Still, St. John had ample opportunities to create more breathing space. He couldn’t finish the transition opportunities created by his pressure defense and missed a number of lightly controversial layouts.
There were only nine scholarship players in St. John’s. Graduate senior Tarek Cobern (rear) and freshman Rafael Pinzon (COVID-19 protocols) were not available. Pinzon was on the bench.