With limited time remaining in the season to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, St. John’s (18-9, 7-7) was able to hold off Seton Hall (15-12, 5-10), 85-72, in front of a sold-out Carnesecca Arena on Saturday afternoon.
It was the final game on campus for the St. John’s seniors and Chris Mullin was introduced at halftime as a new member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame so the crowd was ready to energize their Johnnies to a victory.
“It feels great that we won in this final game,” D’Angelo Harrison said. “We thank everyone that’s supported us for four years here. Everyone’s been great.”
Sir’Dominic Pointer continued his marvelous season as he put up 22 points, on 8-of-12 shooting, and 10 rebounds. Phil Greene added 18 including four three balls while Harrison, who sat out for a few minutes down the stretch because of foul trouble, dropped 12 points and grabbed six boards.
Chris Obekpa, 6 points and 9 rebounds, continues to play hobbled by a mid-foot injury but controlled the paint in the second half against Angel Delgado and company. Rysheed Jordan, 18 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 1 turnover, also played a great game and controlled the floor from the point guard position.
The Johnnies used their transition attack to force the match-up to play to their style and tempo. The Pirates guards could not keep up with Sterling Gibbs suspended as they didn’t have a true ball handler on the floor.
Pointer, who Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard called him “St. John’s point guard in transition,” led the attack and also finished a few monster dunks at the rim.
In the second half, the Johnnies changed into a 2-3 zone and without Gibbs and Jaren Sina the Pirates couldn’t knock down outside shots.
Isaiah Whitehead, who scored 19 points in the game, only shot 8-for-24 and was forced into four turnovers. The zone defense forced Whitehead and the rest of the Pirates lineup into contested jumpers and those shots didn’t fall as they only shot 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from three.
The unsung hero of the game for the Johnnies was point guard Jamal Branch. He came off the bench and when the game was tied at 59 in the second half, he knocked down two critical shots and that changed the momentum for good.
“I was speaking with my teammates at halftime and they told me to be ready,” Branch said. “They told me to do what I do at practice so I had the confidence feeding off those guys. They were counting on me to make shots.”
His steady ball handling and ability to knock down clutch shots has been a huge lift not just in this game, but the entire season. His presence continues to make the Johnnies bench much stronger and give them a different dimension.
The Johnnies continue their road to the postseason as they are back in action Monday at Madison Square Garden against a Xavier team that St. John’s has already beaten on the road.