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St. John’s holds off DePaul in Conference Opener, 89-84

Champagnie has a night as the Johnnies open up their Big East campaign with a win

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

18 days went by since the last time St. John’s were on the court. Thanks to a long Covid pause that kept the Red Storm sidelined, they were forced to postpone their first four games of conference play for this season.

Well for the first time since December 18th, St. John’s emerged from the pause to return to action for a series of first. Their first game in the new year, their first home game in conference play, and more importantly their first Big East game of the season as the DePaul Blue Demons made their way to Queens seeking their first conference win after two losses to start their 2021-22 Big East campaign.

The Blue Demons will have to keep searching as St. John’s shook off the cobwebs with an 89-84 win over DePaul.

For not playing in quite some time, the Red Storm looked like the break did them some good in helping them reset and retool before heading into conference play. They had stretches of letting DePaul back into the game as the Blue Demons were able to match the Johnnies shot for shot at various stretches. Though the first half of tonight’s game was not exactly a good showing of offense for either team. Both had stretches of back-and-forth play with a whole lot of nothing happening.

The difference-maker was Julian Champagnie. Champagnie had himself a night to remember as the Red Storm star popped off for a double-double with 34 points and 16 rebounds. He has always had that ability to take over games with his shooting and defense but in this game especially after emerging out of the pause, he seemed to be on another level in taking control on both sides of the ball. The funny bit of it all was Javon Freeman-Liberty was on his way to having himself a night and he did finish the game with 24 points, but Champagnie seemed to just take it to the next level.

Freeman-Liberty though was the star tonight for DePaul especially after a strong 11 point first half to start the game. He was not the only Blue Demon to have a solid night as this was a high offense game for both teams. The Blue Demons in particular looked much more composed in this game similar in some ways to the game that they had against Butler last Wednesday. They shot as a team 44.1% from the floor and 39.3% from beyond the arc tonight. As mentioned Freeman-Liberty was the focal point for the Blue Demons on offense though had solid nights from Jalen Terry who posted a 14 point game, Brandon Johnson who had 13 points on the night, and David Jones who rounded out the scoring with 11 points on the game. For all the offense that they had, it was a night to forget from the foul line with a dismal 59.1% from the foul line, then again St. John’s did not have a night to remember at the line either with a 56.5% showing at the line. Oddly enough as well DePaul outrebounded St. John’s tonight has well with 44 boards to 40 boards.

Outside of the effort that Champagnie put on display tonight, it was a well-rounded showing from the Johnnies as a whole. The offense ran once again through Dylan Addae-Wusu who had 8 assists tonight along with 17 points on the game. This allowed Posh Alexander more opportunities to cut to the basket gathering 16 points on the night along the way. Rounding out the scoring was Montez Mathis with 11 points on the night.

St. John’s tonight outside of their woes at the foul line shot the ball 47.8% from the floor and 55.6% from beyond the arc. It seems that all things considered that the pause might have helped St. John’s have a mental reset before restarting again for the Big East slate of their schedule.

On the DePaul side of things, Tony Stubblefield’s quest for his first win in conference play in still ongoing though in two of their three games so far they have played hard and close with the exception being against a solid Providence team. It seems more than likely that in their next few games that win will come for the Blue Demons. They are a tough team to match up against and though there were some aspects of their defensive play that the Red Storm were able to use to their advantage namely that DePaul struggled in post defense and left a great deal of space on the arc for the Johnnies to take advantage. All signs hopefully are trending up for DePaul’s program in the long run.

As for St. John’s, this was a great start to open up their conference schedule as in years prior the Johnnies have often stumbled out of the gate. It was also a great start considering there was a slight risk that the pause could have ebbed St. John’s style of play. With this game in the books, the Johnnies are right back on track.

With this one done and dusted both teams turn their attention to the weekend with DePaul heading home to host Villanova while St. John’s will the road for a trip to Providence.