NEW YORK (AP) - Sunday was senior day for St. John’s. And for a while, it looked as though the Red Storm were going to get the opportunity to empty their bench in honor of the occasion.
Not only did that scenario fail to materialize, but the contest turned into a nail biter.
St. John’s (19-11, 9-8 Big East) had a 20-point lead cut down to three, but held on to beat DePaul 72-64 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
D’Angelo Harrison bounced back from his dismal four-point scoring output in the Red Storm’s most recent game, last Tuesday against Xavier. He led St. John’s with 25 points and 11 rebounds. But the Red Storm’s strong play on the defensive interior told the story. They controlled the glass, outrebounding the Blue Demons 44-27, and blocked 14 shots, one shy of a school record.
The strong defensive effort was led by Chris Obekpa, who pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin singled out Obekpa as being particularly crucial to the victory.
“Chris Obekpa was a difference maker with the 11 rebounds and the five blocks, and the feel for the game,” Lavin said. “He saved the day.”
The Red Storm prevailed despite the absence of freshman guard Rysheed Jordan, who sat out to mourn the death of a woman identified by St. John’s as a “close relative.” Harrison picked up much of the slack in the backcourt, and the big men did the rest to help get St. John’s the win.
It was a badly needed victory for the Red Storm, who entered Sunday’s game having lost two straight. With the win, St. John’s is now back above .500 in Big East play, keeping alive their hopes of earning an at-large NCAA tournament berth. Harrison, though, prefers not to focus on all the tournament talk, and the various projections offered by the pundits. He recognizes that their fate will ultimately be in the hands of the selection committee.
“Our job is to win games,” Harrison said. “(I) keep the TV off. There’s really not much (else) you can do.”
The Blue Demons (11-19, 3-14) were able to give St. John’s a huge scare, after appearing to be completely out of it early in the second half. They used the 3-pointer to great effect, knocking down 7 of 11 from beyond the arc in the period.
DePaul went on an 18-4 run to cut the deficit from 20 to six. Then, a 3-pointer by R.J. Currington with 4:14 remaining got the margin down to three. But on DePaul’s next offensive possession, Currington had his layup attempt blocked by Sir’Dominic Pointer. Two free throws put St. John’s up by five, and they maintained at least a two-possession lead the rest of the way.
Blue Demons head coach Oliver Purnell felt his club was forced to expend too much energy to get the deficit from 20 down to three. He thought they simply didn’t have enough left in the tank at crunch time to finish the job.
“Obviously, we got ourselves in a position where we had a chance,” Purnell said. “(We) had to use so much energy to get there, that we had some missed shots going to the basket, couple turnovers. We were just out of gas.”
Brandon Young had 23 points for DePaul, while Billy Garrett chipped in with 12. The Blue Demons return home to wrap up their regular season slate on Thursday when they take on Butler.
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