By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor- @JESchott19
The St. John's Red Storm held on for a 72-64 win over DePaul on Senior Day on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. They improved to 19-11 overall and 9-8 in the Big East Conference to continue to burnish their NCAA Tournament resume.
St. John's was in firm control of this game early in the second half, opening up a lead of as many as 20 points, at 45-25 on an Orlando Sanchez three-point play with 15:08 left. At that point, St. John's let their guard down, and DePaul put a nice run together to pull to within six points, at 52-46. With 8:20 left, an exasperated St. John's head coach Steve Lavin called a timeout to have his team regroup.
The closest DePaul got was within three, at 57-54, with 4:14 left. Down the stretch, St. John's tightened up their defense and recorded three blocks. Overall, St. John's had 14 blocks for the game, with Chris Obekpa leading the way with five. Some of these should have been called goaltends or fouls, but it seems that St. John's reputation gives them the benefit of the doubt that they are clean blocks, so that is a secret weapon they have. D'Angelo Harrison said of Obekpa, "Chris is a big-time player. He makes big plays on the defensive end. He steps up when need be. You can't teach what he does, just a unique player."
Harrison responded in a big way after scoring just four points against Butler on Tuesday. He scored 25 points (8-for-17 FG, 2-3 on 3-pt) and had 10 rebounds to give him his first double-double of the season. "We won this one, kudos to us, but we gotta get ready for the next one. Marquette's going to be a big game for us, probably the biggest game of the year." St. John's plays at Marquette next Saturday at noon.
Lavin said of the win, "Emblematic of the unusual, unprecedented week, at least in my coaching career, the game reflected that. 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. 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 got the win on Sunday without their starting point guard Rysheed Jordan, who is still grieving the loss of his close relative, Niaja Kane. Jordan and Lavin attended the memorial service on Friday in Philadelphia and Lavin said of the decision to keep Jordan out of Sunday's game, "It's clear that Rysheed needs more time before returning to action. He will not suit up for tomorrow's (Sunday) game but will be on the bench to support his teammates." Jordan was in attendance for the game, and as Lavin said ahead of it, was on the bench in a warm-up suit.
Lavin said of the week leading up to the game, "The last eight days, we had five loved ones die, and on the flip side, there was one newborn baby (to Orlando Sanchez). In my career, it was the first time in a short time frame, in a 48-hour window, where we had lost five loved ones. The week was disjointed and unusual because of the degree of grieving and healing that was going on while we're trying to get ready to play high-level games at the most critical part of the season. It was a very unprecedented, unique, unusual eight-day period. That's really what I talked to the team about after the game, how proud I am of the way they encouraged one another, supported one another, provided that fellowship like a family does during difficult times because there are really no words for the degree of tragedies that happened in a 48-hour window."