This is how Mike Anderson expects his team to play. This, the coach repeatedly has said, is how St. John’s has to win.
By defending. By wearing down the opposition with pressure. By refusing to allow missed shots to lead to missed assignments on the defensive end.
After struggling most of the season defensively, the Red Storm turned in one of their best defensive efforts Tuesday night, keying a much-needed 69-57 victory over Butler at Carnesecca Arena.
After the Bulldogs (3-7, 2-5 Big East) cut what had been a 13-point Red Storm lead to four just after the midpoint of the second half, St. John’s (7-6, 2-5) reeled off 10 of the game’s next 11 points to regain command. The run was all about defense, fueled by two Posh Alexander steals that led to layups and a Julian Champagnie blocked shot.
With Isiah Moore sidelined, Josh Roberts was given a rare start, and the junior forward produced at both ends, providing a rim-protecting and finishing element St. John’s has lacked.
Champagnie led the way with 18 points and Alexander had 10 points, four rebounds and three steals. But the story was defense. St. John’s held Butler to 6 of 25 shooting from deep and forced 16 turnovers, leading to 15 points. Even with the Johnnies shooting just 33 percent from the field in the second half, they still outscored Butler over the final 20 minutes because of their ability to defend, holding them to 1 of 11 from beyond the arc.
St. John’s built a 13-point lead and seemed to be coasting after a Dylan Addae-Wusu three-point play with a little over 13 minutes left in the game. But then the Johnnies went cold, Anderson went deep into his bench and Butler caught fire. Led by Jair Bolden (team-high 17 points) and Bryce Golden (12 points), the Bulldogs hit seven consecutive shots and ripped off an 11-2 run to get within four with 9:23 to go.
Anderson reinserted his starters and Champagnie followed with four consecutive points to stabilize the game, kick-starting the 10-1 run.
St. John’s started the first half strong and ended it the same way. It led 9-4 early on and closed on a 9-0 run that was capped by a Vince Cole buzzer-beating, 30-footer.
The 10-point margin at the break was St. John’s largest lead in seven Big East games, and just the second time the Red Storm have held a lead at halftime in league play.
Dunn had a particularly strong showing, scoring four points, dishing out five assists and adding four steals before the break. Seven different Johnnies scored and they had nine assists on 15 made field goals. The ball moved. Perhaps most importantly, their defense was sharp.
The effort, energy level and focus were there after the Red Storm had allowed 97 points to No. 7 Creighton on Saturday. While Butler shot 46 percent from the field, that included a large number of made contested jump shots. The Bulldogs were forced into eight turnovers and had very few open looks, held to just two points over the final 4:25 of the half.
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