Fifteen lead changes later, and after a missed Max Hooper three with four seconds left, we had a winner.
And it was not St. John's, who fall to 9-7 on the season, 0-4 in the Big East and need real magic to make the NCAA Tournament. Incremental progress and peaking in February was the plan. Losing to DePaul during a stretch of three road games out of four - was certainly not.
"As a group we were in a hurry, we rushed, we forced some shots, we had the empty possessions with the turnovers," Lavin said after the game. "Then we got some good looks, and we just missed."
"It's part of the evolution of the team, it's part of the maturation of the group," he added.
For fans, the talk of peaking in February rings hollow, and the NCAAs look like a pipe dream, despite almost two more months of basketball left to play in Big East play.
St. John's held DePaul to seven points in the last eight minutes; but the Red Storm scored five points in the last eight minutes and fell on the road to DePaul, who had not beaten St. John's since 2008.
St. John's clung to a lead with four minutes left, but gave up a fast break layup to Billy Garrett Jr. (21 points), who led the Demons with 21 points to bring the game to a taut one-point game. A patient, poised possession by DePaul gave them a lead on a runner by Cleveland Melvin (16 points).
St. John's was scoreless for the last 3:48 of the game.
DePaul improves to 10-8, and has 2 Big East wins, matching their total from last year's Big East season. DePaul had four players in double figures, including Tommy Hamilton IV (13 points) and Brandon Young (19 points).
In a must win game, D`Angelo Harrison (game-leading 24 points), coming off of a concussion suffered during Saturday's loss at Villanova, tried to will St. John's back, flanked by the rookie Rysheed Jordan, Orlando Sanchez and two surprising additions - Max Hooper (15 minutes, all but one in the second half) and God`sGift Achiuwa (13 minutes, all in the second half; two points, four rebounds, four blocks). Gift was in for defense, and Lavin praised his play; Hooper (3 points) was in to stretch the defense.
"Tonight, I thought Gift was tremendous to step up and contribute in such a significant way was a catalyst for us coming back," Lavin said, referring to the insertion of Achiuwa into the game when the Red Storm were down seven with 12:20 to go after Sir`Dominic Pointer's technical foul.
Pointer was tangled with Brandon Young after a rebound, and awkwardly tried to separate himself - or push Young. Whatever the action, Young ended up on the floor and the refs noticed.
Given a tech for a rash and unnecessary discard, Pointer went to the bench. His mates on the floor watched as Billy Garrett Jr. hit two free throws and took command of the next possession, floating a pass to a wide-open Tommy Hamilton for a three to balloon the lead to 62-55 with 13:37 left to go.
But Gift helped the Johnnies scratch back against the Blue Demons, known for porous defense and giving up runs while stagnating on offense. "We were able to get stop after stop," Lavin said about the comeback.
Rysheed Jordan continued his improvement, scoring 16 points and playing down the stretch over Phil Greene IV (who entered for a minute for Jordan) and Jamal Branch (2 minutes in the second half) in the must-win game.
"There are some positives," Lavin added, praising the play of Gift and Rysheed Jordan. "At the end of it, we'd rather be 4-0 or 3-1 or two and two or after tonight, 1-3.
"The results are not where we want them to be. So we have to go back and work."
DePaul had dominated the offensive glass (17 offensive rebounds, 44% of the available offensive boards), getting to loose balls and wild caroms all game, and playing with passion. The Demons forced St. John's into an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers (19% of their possessions). St. John's shot the ball well; but also allowed many shots at the rim in the loss. DePaul scored 36 points in the paint and 18 second chance points.
St. John's held DePaul to 35% shooting from inside the arc in the second half - compared to 50% in the first - but the attention to the paint meant the Demons could warm up from outside, going 5/9 from beyond the arc. The Demons enjoyed trips to the line, earning 25 free throws to St. John's 15 attempts.
DePaul travels to Villanova next to play on Saturday. Oliver Purnell, looking relaxed as ever, took congratulations in the hallways from cheerleaders and DePaul staff, while St. John's searches for answers and effective play.
St. John's comes home to host Providence on Thursday and Dartmouth on Saturday, both at Carnesecca Arena, as they attempt to build/ salvage their season.
D`Angelo Harrison passed Mark Jackson for 23rd on the all-time scoring list.
Sir`Dominic Pointer played three minutes in the second half. JaKarr Sampson, who had four fouls, played four minutes. Jamal Branch, who scored two points on 1/2 shooting and had two assists in the first half, played two minutes in the second.
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