There are teams that have a tendency to pencil in wins in the middle of games; it's not a good habit, because good teams know that an opponent will happily take a chance to knock off an opponent - these kids are competitors.
St. John's didn't quite get the memo. Despite being favored by 15, and ballooning the lead to 20 in the middle of the second half of a game that felt like a blowout from the middle of the first half, DePaul used steals to get within three points late in the second half.
The Johnnies held on for a 72-64 win, but this was the kind of win that evokes memories of the non-conference struggles.
St. John's nonetheless improves to 19-11, 9-8 in the Big East, with a game at Marquette to come next Saturday to close out the Big East regular season schedule. DePaul falls to 11-19, 3-14 in the Big East with Butler on Thursday to finish off their schedule.
Even in the first half, St. John's struggled with eight turnovers. DePaul had four steals and scored eight points off of turnovers in a truly poor offensive half; but for St. John's, the game was a dunkfest, an exhibition, one that didn't require attention to detail in spacing, ball handling and shot selection. After all, DePaul had 10 points with six minutes left sand needed a late flurry to get to 21 at the half.
When winning by 12 on Senior Day against a team known to be the bottom of the Big East, there wasn't much to worry about, right?
Except this is a DePaul team that defeated the Red Storm by one in Chicago, a DePaul team that has given the Johnnies trouble in the past three years - and a DePaul team that finds enough pep to not give up on games, despite their lowly status.
So the Demons came back, shooting 7/10 from beyond the arc in the second half while forcing seven turnovers from the Red Storm to claw to within three points. It wasn't just the ballhandling, struggling perhaps because of Rysheed Jordan's absence. The Storm tried fancy highlight shots, gambled for steals, and were deficient in their defensive rotations.
But the Johnnies interior defense had enough good moments, holding DePaul to 39% shooting inside the arc in the game and making layups an adventure for Oliver Purnell's visiting side.
Chris Obekpa had five of the Johnnies' 14 blocks, protecting the basket. Obekpa also had 11 rebounds and two points.
D`Angelo Harrison kept the Johnnies going with 13 points in the first half and 25 overall, though he shot 3/11 in the second half, struggling like the rest of the squad. Orlando Sanchez added 13, nine in the second half; Sir`Dominic Pointer added 12 in the second half for a total of 14 points; he played over Jakarr Sampson (8 points) down the stretch. Pointer also had two blocks, four rebounds, and two assists.
St. John's finished with 16 turnovers, but shot 51% (19/37) from inside the arc and 45.5% (5/11). from outside the arc. DePaul shot 39% (16/41) inside the arc and 45.5% (10/22) outside the arc.
Brandon Young led DePaul with 23 points and five assists.
The win over DePaul moves no needles; the Johnnies are still in a position where they need to progress deep into the Big East Tournament to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament's field of 68. The Red Storm couldn't lose this game and hope for an at-large bid, given the earlier loss to the Blue Demons (and Penn State).
On senior night, God`sgift Achiuwa, Orlando Sanchez and Marc-Antoine Bourgault all played. Bourgault got in for the last five seconds of the game. In other words, he earned a Mark Titus "Trillion" - 1 minute, no stats. Like a walk-on.
Jamal Branch went scoreless starting for Rysheed Jordan, and had four turnovers. He had two assists and two steals, as well.