The St. John’s men’s basketball team has dealt with a seemingly endless carousel of player departures this season. But it was the lone midseason arrival that made the difference against DePaul.
Freshman forward Amir Garrett scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his 18th game since joining the team in December as St. John’s (12-16, 5-10) won a back-and-forth battle, 79-72.
Four players scored in double figures for the Red Storm, led by D’Angelo Harrison, who had 23 for his seventh 20-plus point effort in his last 10 games.
“We had four people in double figures – that’s lovely,” Harrison said. “[Freshman forward] Dom [Pointer] had nine, so that’s all balanced scoring. They can’t focus on anybody in particular when we’re playing like this, so that makes us even more of a threat.”
Harrison hit an off-balance, buzzer-beating three at the end of the first half to give the Johnnies a 37-35 lead going into the break. They extended it to nine at 52-43 with 14:16 left and looked poised to break the game open.
But the Blue Demons roared back over the next five minutes and took the lead on a slam by forward Jamee Crockett with 8:39 left. DePaul hung around for the rest of the game, but four straight Harrison free throws and a slam by freshman guard Phil Greene in the last 80 seconds closed out the third-straight season sweep by the Red Storm of their Vincentian rivals.
“If we let up, teams crawl right back,” Harrison said. “They came back and they were down by three points, then they got a foul call so they were right back in it. Coach [Mike Dunlap] just tells us to do a good job of being aggressive. ‘Keep your foot on the gas’ is what he says, and to just stay aggressive throughout the whole game.”
Garrett was especially aggressive throughout the game, and has steadily improved since becoming academically eligible in late December. After averaging 4.2 points per game while learning the offensive system in his first nine games, he’s averaged 9.4 in his last nine, closing the gap between him and his more experienced teammates.
“I’m still catching up,” he said. “I’m still working to get up to the right speed where I need to be, but I’m still behind. These guys are ducking down the court, but you can see me on the court – I’m winded. These guys are just flying, and I’m like ‘wait for me!’”
The win was St. John’s second straight since a 30-point rout by Seton Hall on Feb. 14. Dunlap credited the team’s youth – often cited as a reason for the team’s struggles – as the reason for the team’s ability to bounce back.
“The best thing about our guys is that they’re 18, so they have convenient memory loss,” Dunlap said. “That’s a beautiful thing, and so we’ve shown that all year long – being resilient.”