For a moment on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, it looked like St. John's was finally going to capture the marquee win that they have so desperately been craving over the past few months.
With 8:15 remaining and a 10-point lead over the 5th-ranked Duke Blue Devils, the Red Storm appeared to be in a perfect position to make a major step towards punching their first ticket into the NCAA Tournament since 2011. But then reality hit, Duke went on a dominant run to end the game, and the Johnnies ended up on the wrong side of history.
Now at 13-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big East, St. John's will need to string some wins together if they plan on making the tournament. And that will begin on Wednesday night when they travel to Omaha to face the Creighton Blue Jays.
How to Watch/Listen
The game will tip-off at 9:00 P.M. on Fox Sports 1 with Kevin Kugler and Bob Wenzel on the call. John Minko will also call the game on the radio on 570 AM (WMCA).
St. John's is currently only a 1.5 point favorite against the lowly Blue Jays.
Scouting St. John's
At 13-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big East, St. John's currently sits in 8th-place in the conference. After a disappointing loss to DePaul on January 18th, the Red Storm have looked better in the past week, with a close home win against Marquette followed by an outstanding effort against Duke on Sunday.
On Wednesday night they will look to avenge the one-year anniversary of a crushing road loss to Creighton last season, when a late 3-pointer by Doug McDermott sunk the Red Storm 63-60 on January 28th, 2014.
While D`Angelo Harrison remains the St. John's leading scorer with 19.1 points per game, they have really been led by Sir`Dominic Pointer and Rysheed Jordan - who is playing better - over the past few games. Sunday against Duke was probably the best game of Pointer's career when you take into account who it came against.
Pointer's 21 points on 9-17 shooting led the team on Sunday, as did his 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks. Sunday was the second straight game where Pointer either led the team or was tied for the team lead in each of those five major statistical categories.
Jordan netted 18 points on Sunday, his second straight game with 15-plus, and with all eyes of the college basketball world on the Garden he really did impress many with his stellar first-half play.
It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that Jordan improved his draft stock with his play on Sunday, and if he can keep that up for the rest of the season, he could be seeing his name as a second-rounder or even a fringe first-rounder on quite a few draft boards this spring.
One final player who has stepped up with Harrison struggling is Chris Obekpa. The junior big man played exceptional defense against Duke's Jahlil Okafor for much of the game on Sunday, and the Red Storm will need him to play at that level for the remainder of the season if they are even going to have a chance to make some noise in March.
Creighton will enter Wednesday night's game losers of nine straight games and as the worst team in the Big East at 0-8 in the conference overall. Believe it or not, this team was actually ranked at one point in the season, at number 23 in the nation after a 5-0 start in which they upset Oklahoma.
But it's really been all downhill from there, as they've gone just 4-12 since that point and have seen their season sputter out of control in Big East play. Things will get no easier for the Blue Jays after this one, as they'll take on Georgetown and Xavier in their following two games.
Creighton's leading scorer is Austin Chatman, although he averages just under 11 points per game, and their second leading scorer, Isaiah Zierden, is done for the year with a knee injury. The Blue Jays are actually very balanced with their scoring output this season, as eight players average between five and 10 points per game for them.
Despite this Creighton really does not have one player on their roster who would be considered a dominant scoring threat, unlike the last four seasons when they had Doug McDermott to terrorize defenses. And they shoot just 42% from the field as a team, which fails to qualify in the top 200 in the nation.
Once again, the Johnnies will get a break on the boards in this one as well with the Blue Jays averaging just under 35 rebounds per game. This will be the third time in four games that St. John's will face a team that does not rank in the top 150 in the nation in rebounding.
The two leading rebounders for Creighton are Devin Brooks and Will Artino, although neither of them average more than five rebounds per game. With Artino and the 7-foot Geoffrey Groselle as the only players standing over 6'10" on the Creighton roster, St. John's should be able to control the boards once again on Wednesday night.
St. John's Keys to the Game
What will the Johnnies need to do on Wednesday night in order to pick up their second straight Big East win and rebound from the tough Duke loss?
Step up on the defensive end. In their nine-game losing streak, Creighton has scored under 60 points in four games, including just 50 points in their blowout loss to Villanova on Sunday. This is an offensively challenged team that does not particularly do anything extremely well on the offensive end, and St. John's should not give them any chance to change that on Wednesday night.
The Blue Jays rank 229th in the nation in 3-point percentage as a team with an underwhelming 33% from beyond the arc, and as noted earlier, they do not have any dominant big men that should give the Red Storm any sort of trouble down low. Even though they are not a very strong defensive team, there is no reason that St. John's should be the first team to allow Creighton to hit 70 points on Wednesday night.
Have the other four starters pick up for a struggling Harrison. D`Angelo Harrison has scored just 34 points combined in his last three outings, and his shooting struggles continued on Sunday when he went just 5 of 14 from the field in 35 minutes.
Harrison could likely benefit from sitting out a game with his calf injury that appears to be holding him back, but with the incredibly short bench that the Red Storm employ this season, that simply doesn't look like an option right now.
If Harrison's struggles continue on Wednesday night, St. John's will need their other four starters to step up their scoring output once again. As noted earlier, Jordan and Sir`Dominic Pointer have each been playing lights out for the Red Storm throughout Harrison's struggles, and that will need to continue on Wednesday night if shots aren't falling for Harrison.
Don't suffer from "the Duke effect," jump out to an early lead. How many times in the Coach K era have we seen a team play an outstanding game against Duke (win or lose) only to come out extremely flat and struggle with a subpar team in their following game? I call this phenomena "the Duke effect," and St. John's must avoid having it hit them on Wednesday night.
As evidenced by their 0-8 record in the Big East, Creighton is not a good team this season by any stretch of the imagination, and there is no reason why the Red Storm should let them hang around and be playing in a close game with them. If the Johnnies are a serious tournament team this season they will jump out to an early lead and give themselves an opportunity to rest their starters, who all average at or above 30 minutes per game.
Following the mentally and physically draining game that they played on Sunday, Creighton is the best team in the conference for St. John's to be playing on Wednesday night.
Although there is almost nothing for them to gain from a win in this one, there is really everything to lose for the Red Storm, as a loss would be a major hit to their tournament resume. A tournament team would have no trouble dismantling a subpar opponent like Creighton, even on the road, and we'll see if St. John's can do so on Wednesday night.
St. John's jumps out to an early lead on a Creighton team that has gotten off to slow starts in most of their Big East games, and the Red Storm ride that to an easy 78-61 victory.
What's your score prediction?