St. John's led by just three with the ball as the clock had less than a minute remaining. Jamal Branch rose for a contested jumper and missed, as the ball went up for grabs.
But there was Chris Obekpa, seemingly out of nowhere, to tip it in and extend the lead to 67-62, saving the Red Storm's day.
St. John's (13-7, 5-3 Big East) held on to beat the Seton Hall Pirates (13-7, 2-5 Big East) after nearly letting a 16-point lead slip away in the final minutes. D`Angelo Harrison scored 24 points on 6-13 shooting, and JaKarr Sampson added 19 points in the victory.
"We always look for [Harrison] to step up," Sir'Dom Pointer said. "He's been scoring his whole life. With JaKarr and D'Angelo, we have two of the best scorers in the league. [Harrison] is our best free throw shooter, and he was able to put this game away."
Before the first TV timeout, Seton Hall had hit five of its first six shots from the field. But the Johnnies were running with them, with Harrison and Sampson combining for each of the Storm's first 11 points.
St. John's had issues putting bodies on Hall forward Eugene Teague. His six early points contributed to the Pirates' 75% field goal efficiency in the first 12 minutes.
Luckily for the Red Storm, Harrison and Sampson came to play. They each had eight points before the under-8 timeout, when the Johnnies were also shooting a high percentage at 67%.
"I know that my bread and butter is my mid-range game - that's what I work on," Sampson said. "That's what I was able to do today by making my shots."
After making eight of their first ten shots, the Pirates cooled off from the field. By the end of the half, they had missed 13 of their next 19 shots.
"We were playing in the Garden today, so people were hitting their shots," Pointer said. "But once the game slows down is when we play our best."
A massive Chris Obekpa block led to a transition bucket by JaKarr Sampson on the other end with 1:30 left in the first half, giving the Johnnies their first lead at 33-31. A Sampson fist pump got the Garden crowd going.
The Red Storm led at halftime, 38-33, thanks to a Harrison fade-away three-pointer as time expired. He had 13 points before intermission.
St. John's came out of the locker room and picked up right where they left off. A Sampson transition slam and buckets from Sir`Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV capped a 23-4 Red Storm run.
In fact, the run extended to 30-6 while St. John's turned a 29-21 deficit into a 51-35 advantage.
The Johnnies' hot shooting continued, as they were shooting 58% with 12 minutes to play - by far and away their best offensive performance to date.
But Seton Hall refused to go down easily. Their own 13-4 run brought the Pirates back within just seven with 9:50 to play. After an Aaron Cosby transition lay-up, the Pirates cut it to 60-59 with 4:20 left. A once 16-point lead for the Red Storm was dwindling fast.
Pointer fouled out with 2:05 left when he got called for a hold of Fuquan Edwin on an in-bounds play. He finished with just six points and two rebounds.
A Harrison fall-away jumper from the right wing as the shot clock expired extended St. John's lead to 65-59 with 1:29 left. But a Brian Oliver three on the other end equalized.
After the big Obekpa tip-in and a few Red Storm conversions from the free throw line, the Johnnies held on for a hard-fought win over the Pirates.
"The last four games have had a similar theme," Steve Lavin mentioned. "But what I was most proud of is how our team found a way, after Seton Hall went on a run, to go on a run of our own. We made free throws and were able to salt the game away."
Eugene Teague led the way for Seton Hall with a season-high 22 points, and Edwin added 14 for the Pirates in the losing effort.
Phil Greene added 10 points for the Johnnies, joining Harrison and Sampson in double-figures.
"When the lead was cut to one, our kids looked despondent - like we had just lost the game," Lavin said. "But we had the lead. This is the Big East and inevitably, teams are going to make runs on us. It's how you respond that decides the game."
St. John's moves to third place in the Big East, behind Syracuse and Marquette. They'll return to action on Wednesday night at 9 PM, when the Storm will welcome DePaul to Carnesecca Arena.
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