Posh Alexander grits through pain to lead St. John’s over No. 23 UConn

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Posh Alexander dismissed the pain in his hip and tailbone as minor.

“Nothing new to me,” the freshman said.

His absence from practice Sunday told a different story. So did the expressions on his face after one of his many hard falls on Monday afternoon.

“For him to come out and have that kind of performance, it says a lot about him,” coach Mike Anderson said.

Without Alexander, St. John’s wouldn’t be celebrating its best win of the season. It wouldn’t have had a chance to stun No. 23 Connecticut, 74-70, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., beating the Huskies in the old rivals’ first game against each other in eight years.

Alexander, the pit bull of a point guard from Brooklyn, was brilliant in rallying St. John’s from a 14-point, first-half deficit. He sank a career-high three 3-pointers and keyed a late surge with seven points in a 15-6 run as St. John’s (8-7, 3-6) won on the road for the first time this season and beat UConn (7-2, 4-2) on the road for the first time in 21 years.

“Posh Alexander just absolutely destroyed us off the dribble,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said of the lead guard, who had 18 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals.

After failing to close out Marquette on Saturday, the Red Storm finished the job this time. Rasheem Dunn hit two free throws to give them the lead for good with 3:33 left. Julian Champagnie (12 points, six rebounds), shaking off a poor performance most of the day, hit a driving layup and sank two big free throws with 5.5 seconds left to ice it. On the previous possession, UConn wing Tyrese Martin missed two free throws with a chance to give the Huskies the lead.

At the final horn, St. John’s players celebrated as they ran off the floor into the locker room, the seven-point underdogs ecstatic following the win.

“We were just excited because it was the first time we have beaten a ranked team,” Alexander said. “But personally, I feel like we can beat any team.”

Early on, St. John’s looked to be in danger of getting blown out. It was down 21-7 less than eight minutes, and UConn was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting five of its first seven 3-point attempts. Champagnie was ice-cold, and Greg Williams Jr.’s back would limit him to six minutes.

But the Johnnies pulled themselves off the mat, getting to within three by halftime. Reserves Marcellus Earlington and Dylan Addae-Wusu were a big part of the comeback. Addae-Wusu scored 10 first-half points, and Earlington finished with 15, providing production reminiscent of his strong close to last year.

“I thought we saw their physicality in this game here, and I thought that has been lacking with our basketball team,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, you need a couple guys to be rough and tough and be physical, and we saw that.”

It was a much-needed victory for a team that is starting to play better. It has won two of its last three games, and the one loss — Saturday against Marquette — was very winnable. Now, it gets a nine-day break before facing DePaul, which has yet to win a league game this season.

“This team continues to evolve,” Anderson said. “I think we’re formulating our identity.”

Williams, St. John’s second-leading scorer, had been battling lower-back issues and just didn’t feel like he could help after playing six early minutes, Anderson said. The junior guard dealt with back problems last year as well.

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