It's been a week of rematches for St. John's. First it was Rutgers, who had beaten the Red Storm at the Garden two weeks earlier. Check. Then it was Seton Hall, who obliterated the Johnnies in Newark last February. Check.
On Wednesday night, at a later start time than usual, St. John's will be in for another rematch. Only this time, the Storm will be the hunted rather than the hunters.
St. John's (13-7, 5-3 Big East) will welcome the DePaul Blue Demons (10-9, 1-5 Big East) into the cozy confines of Carnesecca Arena just 11 days after the Johnnies won on DePaul's home floor, 71-62, in Rosemont.
No matter the disparity in standings position, it is always difficult to beat someone twice in a season - let alone twice in such a short time frame.
"Of course [it's hard to beat a team twice]." Chicago native Phil Greene IV said. "We beat DePaul on their home court, and they want revenge. They're going to want to come beat us on our home court. They have motivation, so we'll have to come out hard so we don't let that happen."
In fact, St. John's has drawn DePaul for a home-and-home in three of the past four years. The Red Storm swept the Blue Demons in both 2009-10 and 2011-12, and are looking to do the same this time around. But Steve Lavin knows it isn't a snap of a finger.
"One thing that is fresh on our mind is the run that [DePaul] made to close it to three [late in that game]." Lavin said on Tuesday. "We were fortunate to get enough stops and make some free throws to seal the deal."
Though St. John's built a lead as large as 17 points in the second half on January 19th against DePaul, the Blue Demons made it interesting down the stretch.
"Their speed, quickness, and athleticism are comparable to anyone else in our conference," Lavin continued, characterizing DePaul. "They've struggled offensively, which is well-documented, but they had no problem getting to the rim during that first half."
DePaul guard Jamee Crockett went for 19 points before fouling out, while coach Oliver Purnell's star player Cleveland Melvin scored 16 points. Melvin ranks fifth in the Big East, averaging a solid 17.2 points per contest.
"Melvin is as impressive of a prospect that we've faced to this point in conference play," Lavin said. "He can play with his back to the basket and creates a lot of match-up problems."
DePaul has only played one game since St. John's beat them - a whopping 38-point loss at the hands of Pittsburgh on Saturday.
But the Johnnies have been busier, winning two over Rutgers and Seton Hall as part of what is now a four-game winning streak. Tied for third place in the conference with Louisville, behind Syracuse and Marquette, St. John's has its fan-base believing.
D`Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson have each averaged 16.8 points per game over that stretch, yet no one has been as critical to the Storm's success than Sir`Dominic Pointer. The budding sophomore has put up 10.3 points and six rebounds per game during the streak, while shooting 65.2% from the field.
"Dom has put on a display, like pyrotechnics, that is second to none," Lavin mentioned. "When he's in the game, good things happen. He does so many things. He's like Costco - whatever you need in aisle six, seven, or eight, all under one roof."
During the streak, St. John's has compiled a +7.3 average margin in points and a +2.0 average turnover margin, along with an improving -1.0 rebounding margin. When the Johnnies are competing on the boards and playing intelligently in other areas, they'll put themselves in position to win - something they're learning on the fly.
Wednesday will be the Red Storm's first game at Carnesecca Arena since they suffered their worst loss of the season to UNC-Asheville on December 21st.
A win would catapult St. John's to 6-3 and give them sole possession of third place in the Big East.
"This league can go any way. We can be at the bottom as easily as we are at the top," Amir Garrett said. "We don't talk about it too much because we don't want to jinx ourselves. It's third place - it's not first. And ultimately, that's where we want to be."
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