Johnnies beat DePaul in uncomfortable fashion

The St. John’s men’s basketball team got the victory they needed over the DePaul Blue Demons, 72-64, to keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive.

The victory should have come in blowout fashion for St. John’s as they had led early in the second half by 20 but the Red Storm almost gave the game away as DePaul narrowed the Johnnies lead to three points.

“We are grateful to get the win, in particular on Senior Day and considering what’s at stake in terms of the significance of these late-season games,” St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin said.  “We were fortunate to be plus-17 on the boards and get 14 blocked shots, and that ultimately was the difference at the end of the day. There are still a number of areas we need to improve upon as we turn our focus to Marquette.”

The Red Storm’s (19-11, 9-8) victory over the Blue Demons (11-19, 3-14) was mainly due to their defensive prowess and ability to win the battle on the boards. On the afternoon the Johnnies out-rebounded DePaul 43-26, a +19 margin on the boards (the best margin on the season), and blocked 14 shots.

St. John’s was led to victory on Sunday by the defensive and blocking expertise of Sophomore Chris Obekpa with 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. Junior D’Angelo Harrison led the Red Storm in scoring with 25 points while grabbing 10 boards.

“Chris is a big time player so he makes big plays on the defensive end,” D’Angelo Harrison said. “He stepped up when we needed him so we have to thank him for that. You can’t teach what he does. He’s just a unique player.”

In the first half St. John’s looked like the team that has won 10 of its last 13 games. The Red Storm shot 60.9 percent (14-for-23) from the field and 50 percent (4-for-8) from beyond the arc. The Johnnies were able to hold DePaul to an abysmal 9-for-29 (31 percent) shooting performance in the half as St. John’s went into half with a 33-21 lead.

“We were not pleased with our ball security as we became careless with the basketball in the second half,” Lavin said. “We want to be aggressive against the press yet I felt that sometimes we lacked sound judgment, and took some ill-advised shots. DePaul was opportunistic off our miscues and they fought their way back into the game. I would guess they had one of their best 3-point shooting nights of the season. Thankfully it was our best rebounding game of the year and we finished with 14 blocks.”

St. John’s came out in the second half and was able to jump on DePaul early on in the half to give themselves a 20-point lead. But the Red Storm had an overall lack luster performance on the second half as they allowed DePaul to go on a 22-9 run in the half to get within three. But St. John’s was able to go 11-for-13 from the charity stripe in the last 3:19 to preserve the game and NCAA Tournament aspirations.