The start might have been slow, but the middle and the end were hot on this February Sunday night for St. John's. The Johnnies fought and frustrated the Creighton Bluejays all night for a surprise 66-63 win at Madison Square Garden. Different players carried the Johnnies on offense, while the defense remained constant for most of the game.
McDermott couldn't get a shot in the last eight minutes of the game. "He's a great player but I feel like I did a good job on him," Sampson said, discussing McDermott's scoring drought. "We made sure we had someone on him every single play, up and down the court."
The plan was executed to perfection. St. John's has a local road game at Seton Hall on Thursday evening; Creighton travels to Butler next for a Wednesday evening tip at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
What was once an improbable dream has come to life as the Johnnies, 0-5 in the Big East weeks ago, now have gone 5-1 in the league to work their way into the middle of Big East contention. The NCAA Tournament may be far away, but knocking off a ranked team and looking fairly dominant in doing so will make the nation take notice.
The Red Storm body of work deserves scrutiny. The last few weeks deserve praise.
"They're a good team," coach Greg McDermott said after the game. "They're dangerous. They're competing much harder than they were earlier in the year."
St. John's held the second-best offense in the league (per KenPom) to .94 points per possession and 5/21 shooting (24%) from beyond the arc - the Bluejays shoot 43% from beyond the arc on average this season. Even their free throw shooting abandoned them; the Bluejays shot 14/25 (56%) from the line.
In Madison Square Garden, free throws were not free, and the offensive motion that the Jays depended on decided to go sightseeing. Meanwhile, D`Angelo Harrison scored 19 points - nine on free throws, sealing the game late - adding two steals and five rebounds. Harrison's three-pointer with 2:10 left gave St. John's the lead for good.
In the first five minutes, Creighton missed one shot, carving up the Red Storm with precision screens and cuts and their trademarked shooting prowess. The Johnnies fought back with long two-point jumpers, but found themselves down 16-9.
The energy stepped up. The Johnnies' defensive intensity shaded Doug McDermott, occasionally doubling him on defense, while the frenetic motion on defense caused the Bluejays to think a split second too long as they ran their offense. They shot well when they could get to the rim; but their three-point shooting suffered badly in this game.
Creighton's second half defense held St. John's without a point for five minutes early in the second half, grabbing the lead. But St. John's fought back, ultimately taking the lead with 2:10 left in the game.
Doug McDermott (25 points - 10/18 shooting, 1/2 from beyond the arc) was hounded by JaKarr Sampson all night, who used great footwork and long hands to make the catches hard for McDermott and make getting shots off, especially beyond the three-point arc, even harder.
The supporting cast struggled at times, with Ethan Wragge shooting 1/4 from the three.
Grant Gibbs, in his second game back from injury, scored 12 points, had 12 total rebounds and added six assists.
The Red Storm supporting cast all chipped in points - Sir`Dominic Pointer looked for his offense for a stretch, adding nine points. Phil Greene Iv had nine as well, with Sampson adding eight and Jamal Branch adding seven.
It's not the top of the league. But knocking off one team tied for first place in the Big East is another excellent step in the Red Storm's march to the Big East Tournament and to bolster their NCAA Tournament hopes.