Sir'Dominic Pointer dominated Marquette, with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 blocks in Red Storm's 60-57 win over Golden Eagles at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)
It was a game St. John's needed to win after a start to Big East play that saw the Red Storm lose four of its first five conference games, and after a rough stretch for their senior X-factor Sir'Dominic Pointer, the stakes were just as important for the Detroit native.
As fate would have it, the Swiss army knife of a swingman that his head coach has referred to as a "WD-40 player" provided the biggest spark.
Pointer, in perhaps his season-defining performance, carved up Marquette for 15 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and a team-high six blocked shots as St. John's (13-5, 2-4 Big East) survived a tenuous second half to defeat the Golden Eagles (10-8, 2-4) for the second straight season at Madison Square Garden, doing so tonight by the final of 60-57.
"I thought Pointer had a magnificent game," Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski assessed after the senior salvaged a rare off night from his teammate D'Angelo Harrison, who managed only 11 points while shooting 3-for-18 from the field. "He was the key to their win, he did everything."
"It always feels better to win than (to) lose," said Pointer himself after his role in the Red Storm victory. "Going into a good league 1-5 is not good, so we just needed a win to get back on the winning track."
A first half in which St. John's took a 26-24 lead into the locker room harkened back to the old-school, knock-down, drag-out slugfests the Big East came to be defined by over the years, and a Harrison three-pointer from the top of the key opened the scoring out of the intermission. Soon after, however, Marquette responded with a 19-6 run featuring four consecutive threes from Matt Carlino, whose 21 points led all scorers. The graduate transfer's final trifecta, with 12:56 remaining in a game the Golden Eagles led at that point by a count of 43-35, proved to be his last field goal of the night after Steve Lavin made a switch to put Pointer on the sharpshooter after Carlino had made Harrison chase him up and down the Madison Square Garden floor.
"Carlino didn't score on him," Lavin stated with regard to Pointer's suffocating defense. "He just shut his water off when we made that switch."
St. John's countered the Marquette run with a 17-7 spurt of their own to regain the lead, as Harrison's third trey of the night put the Red Storm ahead 52-50 with 4:49 to play. The Golden Eagles would regain the lead soon after, but four straight points from Pointer swung the edge back in favor of the home team, where it would stay for the duration of the game. Marquette pulled within one on a Duane Wilson layup inside the final minute before Harrison and Carlino traded free throws in the waning seconds. Trailing 58-57, Marquette's defense broke down as Phil Greene ran down the floor for a breakaway dunk to put the Red Storm ahead by three. The Golden Eagles had one final chance to tie, but Carlino's heave from the head of the arc bounced off the rim and into the hands of Harrison, who sealed a much-needed win.
"To be able to win when D'Angelo is 3-for-18 is a good thing," Lavin advised. "It was another Big East battle. I was pleased that we were able to find a win and manufacture a 'W.'"
After the victory, St. John's now sets its sights on fifth-ranked Duke, who visits the Garden Sunday afternoon in search of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th career win. The leader of the Red Storm, though gracious as always, remained strictly business when looking ahead to his team's next challenge.
"No one has more respect than me for Mike Krzyzewski and the career he's had," said Lavin of college basketball's winningest mentor, before cautioning this:
"Come Sunday, St. John's wants to win. We want to beat Duke. It's on our home court, and we need a 'W.'"