Jan. 30, 2013
QUEENS, N.Y. - St. John's is in sole possession of third place in the BIG EAST Conference at the midway point. Regardless of the fact that the calendar still reads "January" or those critics looking lopsided at the Red Storm's 79-74 overtime victory the conference's 14th-place team late Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena, the youthful Red Storm is doing some impressive things and has taken care of business during its current five-game winning streak.
Wednesday's win over DePaul marked the sixth BIG EAST victory for the Red Storm (14-7, 6-3 BIG EAST), eclipsing its overall win total from 2011-12 and matching last season's number of conference victories.
"We feel we have a lot of momentum, but some may be doubting us because most of the wins were against the bottom half," said sophomore guard D'Angelo Harrison, who had a team-high 17 points for the Red Storm. "We're looking to prove ourselves at Georgetown next, to show that this streak and our conference standing is not just coincidence."
The streak started with a win over then-No. 20/20 Notre Dame just over two weeks ago. Then came wins at DePaul, at Rutgers and over Seton Hall at The Garden before a second win against DePaul. The Red Storm's other BIG EAST win was at then-No. 14/15 Cincinnati on Jan. 5.
St. John's meets Georgetown (rv/rv) on Saturday and then faces Connecticut at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6, followed by road games with No. 6/6 Syracuse (Feb. 10) and No. 12/13 Louisville (Feb. 14).
"Third place is big for us after people picked us 12th in the preseason," freshman forward JaKarr Sampson said. The five-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week finished the contest with 13 points and eight rebounds, including six points in overtime.
"I feel like we're ready. I'm ready," Sampson said. "This is why I came to St. John's, to play big-time games like Louisville and Syracuse. We want to compete with those teams."
St. John's head coach Steve Lavin - who improved his career overtime record to 14-5 with a 2-1 mark at St. John's in extra frames - was asked if the upcoming stretch of games would let everybody know how good his team is.
"After three years in this league as a coach, I have found you just can't look for any universal truths out of a stretch of four or five games," Lavin said. "Just keep coaching and stay on the path of improvement until we see how things finish. You have to wait for the body of work."
The Red Storm looked to be in trouble late against the Blue Demons especially since Harrison had fouled out with 3:45 to play in regulation and DePaul went to the line to claim a two-point lead. St. John's managed to tie it late in regulation and then controlled the overtime behind Sampson, who had two field goals and two free throws in the extra five minutes.
"You feel helpless,'' Harrison, the BIG EAST's second-leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, said of sitting on the bench for the game's last 8:45. "But I have faith in my teammates and they have faith in me. It was a grind-it-out game and we grinded."
Brandon Young had 21 points for the Blue Demons (10-10, 1-6 BIG EAST), who have lost five-straight and seven of eight overall. They have lost eight-straight to St. John's.
Sampson's rebound basket with 1:49 left in overtime gave the Red Storm the lead for good at 75-74. Young missed a foul line jumper and, as Sir'Dominic Pointer went in for a dunk, Young fouled him hard and a flagrant 1 was called. Pointer made both free throws - the Red Storm went only 4-for-10 from the line in overtime - and even though St. John's didn't score on the ensuing possession, the Red Storm made the necessary stops and Sampson went 2-for-4 from the line to seal the win.
Pointer had 11 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive) for his second double-double of the season, both coming against DePaul. He finished 4-of-5 from the field, including his third 3-pointer of the season, and made both free throw attempts. Phil Greene IV finished with 13 points, two boards and two assists.
Sophomore point guard Jamal Branch made two free throws for St. John's with 1:18 left in regulation to tie it at 69-69. DePaul was called for offensive goaltending on its next possession, before Sampson missed a jumper for the Red Storm and Young missed a 3-point attempt with 15 seconds left.
Branch finished with 11 points as St. John's had five double-figure scorers for the first time since a Feb. 14, 2012, loss at Seton Hall.
After a scramble near midcourt fouling the inbounds, Sampson received a pass from Pointer and appeared to be fouled at the buzzer. Officials went to the monitor and ruled the whistle came after time had expired.
Cleveland Melvin had 10 points and 13 rebounds for DePaul, which finished with a 52-39 advantage on the boards. DePaul finished the first half with a 28-15 rebounding edge - 12-4 on the offensive end - although St. John's led 38-31, the largest lead for either team to that point.
St. John's freshman Chris Obekpa, who came into the contest averaging 4.6 rejections per game, had five to give him 96 for the season.
"Obekpa is such a good shot blocker," DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said. "When he was in the game, he really changed some things. There's no question about it, St. John's really defended the rim pretty well. And they did at the end of the game. As well as we rebounded, we didn't come up with the critical rebounds we needed in overtime."
STJ visits our nation's capital to complete the regular season Georgetown series. The CBS national network game at Verizon Center takes place at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2.