The Red Storm’s 93-84 victory over Xavier Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena was more than just another win.
It moved St. John’s into fifth place in the Big East and one win closer to an NCAA Tournament bid. The triumph snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Musketeers. And it was the 400th career win for Mike Anderson as a head coach.
“I always say that I am just a young buck from Birmingham, Alabama,” he said after the game. “I was born in football country, and here I am coaching basketball, and it is a blessing. I am very grateful.”
Julian Champagnie led the Johnnies with 21 points and Rasheem Dunn added 17. Posh Alexander added to his Big East Freshman of the Year campaign with 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Marcellus Earlington scored 16 points off the bench, including four three-pointers, and grabbed nine rebounds.
Earlington said it meant a lot to get Anderson his milestone victory.
“He is a hardworking coach, he is on us every day,” Earlington said. “He has a winning mentality and we just came out here today and really wanted to get him his 400th win; we are very proud of him. He has been a great coach all year, I am very happy for him.”
Throughout the season, Anderson, and other coaches, have had a towel over their shoulders in honor of the late Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr., who died last August. On Tuesday, Anderson’s towel had Thompson’s face on it.
Anderson played for head coach Nolan Richardson in the early 1980s at Tulsa and then joined his staff as an assistant coach. When Richardson left to take the top job at the University of Arkansas, Anderson went along for what became a 17-year stint, including winning the 1994 national title.
Anderson would adapt Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” philosophy with its up-tempo, intense style of basketball.
He left Arkansas to become head coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he coached four seasons, with the high point being a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004.
Anderson moved on to the University of Missouri, where he coached five seasons. His Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight in 2009.
In 2011, he returned to Arkansas, where he coached eight seasons before being fired.
Several weeks later, St. John’s hired Anderson, only after initial choices for the job turned the school down.
The early returns look like the right guy fell into SJU’s laps. Anderson is one of four Division I coaches with at least 15 years of experience and no losing seasons.
The Big East tournament will be held at Madison Square Garden in March, with the top five squads in the 11-team conference receiving a bye in the first round. Tuesday’s win was a critical one in a close conference.
“I think you have got to take care of homecourt,” Anderson said when asked how the win helped St. John’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. “I think we have a big-time schedule in our league and when those teams come here, you have got to hold serve. First game of the year they beat us at their place, but this is the time of year in February where you will remember these games here.”