BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The first half was ugly. It was difficult to get through the second half.
Combine the two, and St. John’s suffered its first defeat of the young season.
They started slow when faced with one of the two non-conference test. In the second half, they rebounded. But it wasn’t enough. It was just too deep. Their inability to make enough clutch plays down the stretch — particularly on the defensive end — wouldn’t allow it in a 76-74 loss to Indiana in the Gavitt Tipoff Games at a sold-out and raucous Assembly Hall.
“Regarding the first half, we can’t play like that — ever — to start a game like that. Especially when we play teams like this,” said junior star Julian Champagnie, who poured in a game-high 32 points and added seven rebounds. “It put us in a poor spot going into the second half, where we have to waste more energy in order to climb back in the game, which we did. On a positive note, we fought — we fought extremely hard.”
The narrow loss was due to many factors. The poor opening half in which St. John’s committed as many turnovers (nine) as made field goals (nine), and trailed by as much as 13. The Flagrant 2 foul and automatic ejection assessed to newcomer Montez Mathis, one of the team’s better defenders, in the opening half.
But, most of all, there was St. John’s inability to get that one key stop down the stretch. In the closing minutes, Indiana pulled within one of the Johnnies three times. Indiana then answered back with a basket, playing Trayce Johnson-Davis, a star forward (18 points and 10 rebounds; four assists) in order to open the shot.
“We have to step up,” Champagnie said. “We have to get that stop.”
St. John’s did have one last chance to force overtime — or win the game with a 3-pointer — after Xavier Johnson split two free throws with 8.4 seconds left. But without a timeout left, they couldn’t set up a play, and Champagnie was forced into a desperation heave that failed to draw iron.
Maybe it would’ve been different had Mathis not been ejected. At 6:45 in the second half, Mathis threw his ball out of the backcourt, and fouled Indiana Guard Trey Galloway. He then dragged him down. Asked about the officials’ decision, coach Mike Anderson said he would have to watch the replay. Anderson declined to reveal what the officials told him.
“It was definitely a huge blow,” Champagnie said. “It hurt a lot.”
There were some bright spots even though the loss was disappointing. Champagnie looked like a potential NBA player as he made six 3-pointers. After a slow start Stef Smith was able to score 16 points. He was also the most impressive of all five transfer players. Freshmen O’Mar Stanley and Rafael Pinzon belonged. Despite an off-game from Posh Alexander — he was limited by foul trouble in the first half and committed five turnovers, two of them costly in the final minutes — and several newcomers struggling, St. John’s (2-1) was in position at the end to steal the game. It just couldn’t finish off the victory.
“First thing I told those guys, ‘I liked the gut-check. It was a gut-check at halftime and ya’ll responded,’ ” Anderson said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted to, but it’s something we’re going to continue to build on.”