Despite a slightly hobbled Moe Harkless and some cold shooting in the first half, the Red Storm took out DePaul at the Allstate Arena, 87-81.
D`Angelo Harrison exploded for 5/6 from outside the arc in the 57-point second half for St. John's, and dynamic defense helped key scoring runs against the DePaul Blue Demons. Harrison's 7 made threes was a career high, as were his 29 points.
Phil Greene had an effective second half in his return to the Windy City as well, tying a career high with 14 points. Amir Garrett also touched a career high with 12, and God`sgift Achiuwa made the most of his second half minutes, scoring 12 of his 15 points.
St. John's goes to 10-12 on the season, and 4-6 in the Big East, with a home date against the Syracuse Orange on Saturday.
DePaul falls to 11-10, 2-7 in the league. The Blue Demons were paced by 22 for Cleveland Melvin, a season-high 19 for wing Moses Morgan, and 13 points and 11 assists for Brandon Young. DePaul plays next at Cincinnati.
"They attack. I credit DePaul, they're a really good team. They're gonna attack you no matter what." - D'Angelo Harrison, postgame.
"Man, this is a game we should have won." - DePaul's Moses Morgan
As said in the pregame, no game is a gimme. And DePaul came to grab their third Big East win, to earn some respect in the Big East.
The Blue Demons came out firing, leading by as much as 9 with 9:00 left to go in the first half. St. John's shot 28% inside the arc, 28.6% outside of the arc, and looked incapable of putting together strong offensive possessions against the Blue Demons' pressure and blistering pace. The pace was to DePaul's liking - a 78 possession game at the end - and the Red Storm found themselves gassed at times.
On top of that, Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison were ineffective in the first half. H&M shot 3/20 for 9 points in the first half.
"[Harkless and Harrison] were a grand total of three of twenty at halftime. Basically, we told them we love they were playing, and that they should take the same shots in the second half. And if they didn't, they would be benched," Mike Dunlap said. "If we fail that way, then we fail with our better scorers. But we don't want those guys to have a lack of confidence or think we're fairweather coaches. We're gonna ride those guys all the way through."
And the coaches rode them.
Harkless' mobility was obviously limited; his moves looked deliberate, his drives lacked explosiveness. But he worked to cause turnovers, and rebound the ball. "I was just trying to play defense," he said.
Despite a 2/15 night, Harkless stayed on the floor and provided enough length to bother DePaul's interior scoring. And Harkless' 7 defensive rebounds kept the Blue Demons from extending the lead in the first half - as did energetic defense by Amir Garrett and help with ballhandling from Sir`Dominic Pointer.
In the second half, D`Angelo Harrison found open spaces in the right corner for threes, finding the rhythm that eluded him in the first.
Keeping the game close was a team effort on defense early, a Harrison effort in the first ten minutes of the second half, and a Phil Greene production in the middle of the second period. Greene directed the team with steady ballhandling against pressure and hit a trio of jumpers to get the Red Storm tied at 59. DePaul never led after the 9:30 mark.
"We're starting to click at the right time," Greene said. "Just staying with the program. Like coach Dunlap says, each day we gotta get better and better. So we're taking steps. And we're coming out with W's."
A good homecoming for Phil Greene. The young guard Greene played in front of dozens of friends and family, who loudly cheered on his play. Phil Greene came alive in the second half, shooting 5/6 for 10 points, adding 2 defensive rebounds and 4 assists. He opened the game looking shaky with the handle and the DePaul full-court pressure. But Phil found the key: "attacking, attacking, and not waiting on [the pressure to come]." The hometown vibe helped his confidence.
St. John's likes speed too. Despite the thin roster, St. John's likes transition play. It needs to be controlled - Harrison had to ask for a breather at one point - but the Red Storm executed well in the second half, while DePaul looked a little tired. The Blue Demons pulled up for jumpers more in the second half, and struggled to contain the Red Storm in transition. St. John's found shots at the rim and open shots for Harrison, the team's best shooter.
St. John's scored a strong 1.43 points per possession in that half, shooting 74% inside the arc (17/23) and 71% from outside of the arc (5/7). They allowed 56% shooting inside the arc, and 7/10 outside the arc in the second half as well, so enthusiasm for the overall effort needs to be tempered with knowledge that a better defensive effort is needed.
God is alive. Yes, it's only DePaul. But God'sgift Achiuwa showed a level of agility and activity the team has not seen in weeks, even uncorking a reverse dunk on the break in the second half. Gift was strong inside - a "space-eater" as Dunlap called him - and continued possessions with his 5 offensive rebounds.
Coach Dunlap praised his effort on the glass: "His tips were significant and his rebounding on the defensive boards in the last five minutes were big. He came to life in those last five minutes."
Syracuse looms large, with the return of Fab Melo, in just a couple of days.