Magic Mike: Anderson has SJU on winning path 1

St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson talks to his team during last Saturday’s 88-86 victory over Marquette at Madison Square Garden. Despite losing key players from last season’s squad, St. John’s finished the regular season 16-15.

St. John’s coach Mike Anderson learned under Arkansas’ Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson and his “40 minutes of hell” style of aggressive basketball.

When Anderson was introduced as the Red Storm’s new coach — after other candidates turned the school down in a coaching search heavily criticized by both fans and media — he joked that early on it might be “30 minutes of hell, then 10 minutes of what the hell are you doing?”

The team was losing key contributors from the 2019 squad that made the NCAA Tournament. But last Saturday’s 88-86 win over Marquette gave St. John’s a winning record for the regular season, 16-15. Still, true to the “30 minutes of hell, then 10 minutes of what the hell are you doing?” line, the Red Storm nearly saw a 21-point lead disappear before holding on in the final seconds.

St. John’s fought through a season of close losses, cold shooting and injuries.

Red Storm forward Julian Champagnie, who scored 21 points and hauled in 12 rebounds in the win, and was named Big East Rookie of the Week, spoke about the coach’s emphasis on defense.

“Coach [Anderson] always talks about second and third effort, but for me, it’s on the defensive end of the court because some days coach says to us, ‘You can’t be only good at your jump shot.’ Some days it will go in and some days it’s not, so when it comes to the defensive part of the game, he’s helped us get better at it,” he said.

Marquette committed 20 turnovers in the game. St. John’s often plays at a fast and furious pace, giving opponents problems as the team looks to run and force turnovers.

“The main thing is playing with effort,” guard Greg Williams Jr. said of playing for Anderson. Williams, who scored 17 points in the victory, was named to the Big East Honor Roll for the week. “I feel like talent goes a long way, but when you play with effort and when other people don’t have it, it’s hard to play against that. Playing with effort is something you can’t teach, you just have to find within.”

Williams and forward Josh Roberts made contributions to the team after being buried on the bench last season by Chris Mullin, who preferred shorter rotations and fewer substitutions to Anderson.

Guard Nick Rutherford, a grad student who transferred to St. John’s, improved during the season.

“I remember his first game, he had six or seven turnovers and he was throwing it in the stands, throwing it everywhere,” Anderson said. “You look at him now and you think is that really the same guy? It’s so refreshing to see guys develop right before your eyes.”

St. John’s regular season finish of 16-15 included a 5-13 mark in conference play. The Big East tourney starts this week. The team endured six losses by five points or less. If not for one or two misses at the end of games, the Red Storm could have been knocking on the door of an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid.

Anderson came to St. John’s never having had a losing season in 17 seasons as head coach at three different schools.

He told his team he was proud of them “because even with all the adversity, all the close games, they’ve stayed together and that says it all.”

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