For the first time since 2015, the Red Storm finished Big East play with a winning record and earned a bye in the first round of the conference tournament.
Without injured freshman guard Posh Alexander, the Johnnies erased an 11-point halftime deficit against Providence and then dug themselves out of an 18-0 hole against Seton Hall last Saturday.
“I believe we are shaping into form, so to speak,” head coach Mike Anderson said. “The tendency of a lot of my teams is maybe not to get down so much early, but we always have been a second half team.”
Greg Williams Jr. said, “We were getting smacked and the coaches helped gather our emotions and reunited us. We kind of got the jitters out with senior day and we just had to bounce back, play with our backs against the wall and we just had to come back with a different type of intensity.”
What a job Anderson and his team did this season.
Anderson was named Big East Coach of the Year Wednesday, after leading the Red Storm, who were predicted to finish ninth in conference, to a fourth-place finish. Anderson is the first St. John’s coach to win the honor since Brian Mahoney in 1993. Lou Carnesecca won the award three times in the 1980s.
The Johnnies had the league’s top scoring offense, averaging 77.5 points per game against Big East opponents, the first time the team led the league in scoring since 1999. Defensively, the Red Storm is ninth nationally in steals per game and four players are in the top 10 in conference steals.
Despite missing the last two games, Alexander was named Big East Freshman of the Year. He is the fourth player in school history to win the honor, joining David Russell (1980), Moe Harkless (2012) and JaKarr Sampson (2013).
Alexander, who was named Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, ranked first in conference and seventh nationally in steals per game.
His 11.1 points per game are second for St. John’s behind Julian Champagnie and he led the team with 4.4 assists per game.
Champagnie was named to the All-Big East First Team, leading the way with 19.5 points per game in league play. He joins Chris Mullin (1984), Walter Berry (1986) and Marcus Hatten (2002) as Johnnies to lead the conference in scoring. The sophomore is the first underclassman to do it.
St. John’s started conference play 2-6 and had fallen behind Connecticut by 14 points early when the Johnnies came back to beat the Huskies, turning the season around with a five-game Big East win streak.
The Red Storm are a top-four seed in the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2000, the last time they won it. That also marked the last time they even made it to the semifinals of the tournament.
St. John’s will play Seton Hall at 3 p.m. Thursday, with an NCAA Tournament bid still a possibility. Winning the Big East Tournament would give them an automatic bid but some pundits say even winning two games could put them in.
Last year, St. John’s was leading Creighton at halftime of the conference tournament quarterfinals when the remainder of it was canceled due to Covid.
Now the Big East Tournament can mark a new beginning.