Amid the disappointment of what so far has been a lost season, there has been one shining light. A bright spot that has kept St. John’s in games even as the losses have piled up.
From the jump, Joel Soriano has been St. John’s best player, a double-double machine who significantly improved his conditioning and has become a two-way force.
That continued Tuesday night. The big man from Yonkers was the best player on the floor, as St. John’s snapped a five-game losing streak with a commanding 77-61 victory over Butler at Carnesecca Arena. In what amounted to a must-win game against a team near the bottom of the league, the 6-foot-11 Soriano was dominant. He posted team-highs of 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots, and his teammates followed in a mostly strong performance.
Freshman AJ Storr, in his second straight start, provided an offensive spark with 12 points, Andre Curbelo had 11 points and six assists and Rafael Pinzon added 10 as St. John’s shot a robust 52 percent from the field. Chuck Harris scored 17 points for Butler.
After nearly upsetting No. 19 Providence on Saturday, St. John’s (12-6, 2-5) is at least playing better of late, even if an NCAA Tournament run is unlikely. It will really get a chance for its first signature win on Sunday, when it visits sixth-ranked Connecticut.
It was a 10-point edge at halftime and increased to 16 after consecutive 3-pointers from David Jones and Curbelo with 8:13 left. The Johnnies couldn’t completely put the game away from there, in part due to four turnovers on as many possessions. But Butler, which has now lost five of its last seven games, was ill-equipped to rally and St. John’s went on to win for the first time since beating Florida State a week before Christmas.
Soriano set the tone, scoring eight of St. John’s first 10 points and scored a game-high 14 points in the first half. He hurt Butler inside and also hit some jumpers, leading a strong opening 20 minutes. The Johnnies went into the break with momentum, after Curbelo dove for a loose ball and set up a Dylan Addae-Wusu dunk in the waning seconds.
St. John’s was the better team in almost every category in that opening half. It shot 53.3 percent from the field, outscored Butler, 18-2, in the paint and enjoyed an 18-11 edge on the glass. Eight different players scored. Really, the lead should’ve been wider, if not for some empty St. John’s possessions featuring questionable shot selection. Eight turnovers led to 10 Butler points.
Graduate senior Montez Mathis (toe) missed his second straight game.