No let up

Near the end of the No. 23 St. John’s men’s basketball team’s 76-51 win over DePaul on Feb. 23, head coach Steve Lavin looked up into the crowd of 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena and noted just how many people were standing in the upper levels of the arena.

The head coach pointed out just how packed the arena was to his players, proud of the renewed interest the St. John’s community—from alumni to administrators to other people working in athletics—had become over the success of the program.

St. John’s won its 420th game all-time at Carnesecca Arena on the night it played its 500th game there, readying itself for a potential bye during the Big East tournament.

“Our players are getting to a point where they can use their ingenuity and their resourcefulness to solve problems on their own,” Lavin said. “In the ideal world, you want your players to exert initiative and problem-solving skills on their own.”

Senior Guard Dwight Hardy continued to make his case for Big East Player of the Year, scoring 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. During the Red Storm’s recent streak of seven wins in eight games, Hardy has topped 20 points five times.

“It would mean a lot [to win Big East Player of the Year],” Hardy said. “I put a lot of hard work in to develop a good skill game, but I don’t really focus on it.”

Midway through the first half, Hardy scored the first points of what would become a 13-2 run as St. John’s took a 21-12 lead. St. John’s (18-9, 10-5) led by as many as 30.

“Dwight is having a great run this year at St. John’s because he’s part of a cohesive group that plays a brand of basketball that allows his talents to shine,” Lavin said.

St. John’s forced 14 turnovers and scored 15 points off turnovers, playing the best zone defense DePaul head coach Paul Oliver Purnell said he’s seen all year.

“They’re playing really good basketball right now,” he said. “They showed no signs of a let up.”

Cleveland Melvin led the Blue Demons (7-20, 1-14) with 16 points. Jimmy Drew and Jeremiah Kelly shot a combined 6-for-12 from three-point range.

Ten St. John’s players scored, with Hardy, D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne finishing in double figures. The Red Storm had 19 fast break points and scored 42 in the paint, dominating the Blue Demons on the glass for 43 rebounds.

St. John’s goes on the road Saturday to Villanova, where they face the No. 15 Wildcats in what might be the team’s greatest test so far this season.

“They’re right there with Villanova,” Purnell said. “They’re a legitimate Big East team, and if you’re a legitimate Big East team you can compete with anyone.”