The game was still in the balance and the ball looked to be headed to the jerseys in navy blue. St. John’s had a seven-point lead, but it seemed tenuous.
Out of nowhere came Posh Alexander, bodying up Nate Johnson, beating Colby Jones to the spot, arching his back and reaching as far as he could for the ball. Not only did he corral it, he managed to steer it toward the rim.
It fell through the hoop. The next time St. John’s had possession, Alexander beat the Xavier press for a basket, extending the Red Storm’s lead to nine with 2:24 remaining.
“He’s amazing,” Marcellus Earlington said with a laugh. “He’s a dog.”
A week after Alexander came back to Earth and the Red Storm’s six game-winning streak was snapped as a result, the standout freshman from Brooklyn soared again, leading the Johnnies to a résumé-boosting 93-84 victory over the Musketeers at Carnesecca Arena that snapped an 11-game losing streak against Xavier.
With the win, the 400th of head coach Mike Anderson’s career, St. John’s (14-8, 8-7) moved into fifth place in the Big East, which comes with a first-round bye in next month’s conference tournament at the Garden.
Alexander, the heavy Big East Freshman of the Year front-runner, missed seven of his first eight shots, but he didn’t stop shooting. He was also his typical menacing self, hounding Xavier star Paul Scruggs into a 5-for-13 shooting performance.
Alexander scored 15 points and dished out a career-best nine assists, while adding eight rebounds and three steals without a single turnover. In a loss last Tuesday to Butler, foul trouble and a poor shooting night by Alexander contributed to an overtime loss. He became passive. That never happened against Xavier (11-4, 4-4).
“I was proud of him,” Anderson said. “Posh continues to impact this team in a lot of different ways.”
The Red Storm were led by many of the same stars as during the recent winning streak. The victory followed a similar pattern of unselfish basketball (24 assists), quality defense (Xavier shot 41 percent from the field) and timely baskets.
Julian Champagnie was efficient, scoring 21 points on 11 shots. Rasheem Dunn was a two-way factor, notching 17 points and four assists. The bench produced 37 points, with 16 points and nine rebounds coming from Earlington. Greg Williams Jr. had his best game since returning from a back injury, notching eight points and three assists. Isaih Moore had 11 points and five rebounds, and he threw down his usual array of violent dunks.
“Coach always tells us we have eight starters,” Earlington said.
The Red Storm pushed the lead to 13 early in the second half after an Earlington 3-pointer (his fourth in as many attempts up to that point) and held a comfortable 65-54 lead with 11:49 left. They couldn’t put the Musketeers away, but kept them at arm’s length. When Xavier got within six, Moore responded with back-to-back dunks to extend the lead to double figures again. When the lead was down to seven in the final minutes, Alexander ensured the Red Storm wouldn’t have to sweat it out in crunch time.
After this critical bounce back victory, the Johnnies have reached the home stretch — four league games remain — very much in the NCAA Tournament picture.
“This was our goal,” Earlington said. “We know how good we can be. We’re not surprised.”