Why Greg Williams Jr. is St. John’s most important player



It’s not a coincidence anymore. When Greg Williams Jr. is aggressive, when he attacks and looks for his shot, St. John’s usually plays well, as it did Sunday night in securing its first Big East win behind Williams’ career-high 26 points.

Look at the Red Storm’s best wins this season — the blowout of Stony Brook, the neutral-site victory over Boston College, the one-sided wins over La Salle and Georgetown — and Williams was terrific in those games, averaging 19.2 points.

Now look at some of their bad performances. The near-loss to Rider. The season opener against St. Peter’s. The loss at Georgetown, blowout to Creighton and setback to BYU. Williams wasn’t aggressive enough. He didn’t get enough shots. He averaged just eight points in those games.

Julian Champagnie is St. John’s best player, its leading scorer and rebounder. But Williams may be its most important player. In Sunday’s win over Georgetown, Williams hit the game’s biggest shot, a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired after the Hoyas had cut a 16-point lead all the way down to two early in the second half. It enabled the Johnnies to take a breath, and they cruised from there.

The junior guard is too talented not to be a focal point every night. He’s shooting a team-high 44.4 percent from 3-point range, along with averaging 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals. But his scoring average of 12.9 and shots taken per game of 8.0, should be higher.

More takeaways after St. John’s first four league games entering a 12-day layoff:

— St. John’s has this time off thanks to Villanova. Coach Jay Wright wanted to give his players some time to go home for the holidays, an idea the Red Storm loved. So the scheduled game between the two teams on Dec. 30 is postponed.

I think this is very good for St. John’s for a few reasons.

No. 1: Not having to deal with the Big East favorite gives this team a chance to gain momentum with DePaul coming to Queens on Jan. 2. The Red Storm gained some confidence by beating Georgetown and would add even more if it could knock off the Blue Demons, who are projected to finish near the bottom of the league.

No. 2: The players have been apart from their families since the end of July, working out and preparing for this season while doing everything possible to avoid contracting the virus in this quasi-bubble the program has created for itself. Getting away for a few days can only help and serve as a refresher.

— I felt Sunday was Champagnie’s best all-around performance of the season. He didn’t just score. He rebounded the ball at a high rate. He was active defensively. He didn’t hunt shots.

It’s been a transition for Champagnie as this team’s clear go-to guy. He’s seeing more defensive attention and feels a responsibility to produce. But scoring big isn’t always the answer. Sometimes dishing out four assists, like he did against Georgetown, is just as important as piling up points. What I liked most was how engaged he was at both ends of the floor, scoring 20 points on 12 shots, adding nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

— There was what feels like a decent segment of the fan base that was starting to get critical of Mike Anderson and the coaching staff before Sunday night’s win. A group that felt he was underachieving, that was pointing to underwhelming recruiting and another slow start in the Big East.

Losing always breeds negativity and I understood the frustration with starting 0-3 in the Big East. But I also think Anderson and his staff are being punished for the last two decades of futility, which isn’t fair. They have nothing to do with past failures. It is tough to be patient for fans who haven’t seen an NCAA Tournament win in two decades.
Red Storm fans should look across the river at the success stories at Rutgers and Seton Hall for some perspective. Steve Pikiell has the Scarlet Knights looking like a Final Four contender. Rutgers had a losing record in each of his first three seasons. Kevin Willard didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament until his sixth season at Seton Hall.

it takes time. Anderson has won everywhere he’s been, never once having a losing season. It’s only his second season. Give him a chance. St. John’s really has only lost one game — the trip to Georgetown — it should have won this year. 


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