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Sports

St. John's Red Storm Keeps Tournament Hopes Alive, But Still Has Work To Do

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St. John's Red Storm Keeps Tournament Hopes Alive, But Still Has Work To Do

2014-03-03 14:38:57

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: D’Angelo Harris rises for three pointer against DePaul. (Image Source: USA TODAY Sports)

On Sunday at Madison Square Garden the St. John’s Red Storm nearly suffered a bubble-bursting loss, but held on to beat DePaul 72-64. The Storm took a 12-point lead into the locker room, which they built up to 20 points early in the second half. At that point one wondered how could they possibly have lost to DePaul the first time around.

Then they got sloppy on offense, lax on defense and they failed to take advantage of fast break opportunities, which allowed the Demon Deacons to climb to within three points late in the game. SJU committed 16 turnovers, while forcing just 11. Not a recipe for victory.

They were able to make up for it with a great effort from the backline of their defense. The Johnnies blocked a whopping 14 shots in total.

“They made two, three, maybe even four or five terrific defensive plays there in the second half, to erase some baskets that obviously would have made it a lot closer,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “Gotta give them credit for making some game-winning defensive plays.” 

Coming off the bench Orlando Sanchez, God’sgift Achiuwa and Sir’Dominic Pointer each had a pair of blocked shots, while sophomore Chris Obekpa led the way with five rejections.

“He saved the day,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said of his center’s effort.

After playing through an ankle injury, Obekpa’s timing and athleticism appeared to be at peak levels. He also pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, his second-highest total of the season. The Johnnies won the rebounding battle 43 to 26, but it’s blocking shots that Obekpa loves the most.

“The way (you) feel when you make a game-winning shot, that’s the same way I feel when I get a game-winning block,” Obekpa said.

Junior shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison paced the Storm with 25 points after scoring a season-low four points in their 65-53 loss to Xavier on Tuesday.

The Johnnies were without starting point guard Rysheed Jordan, their top playmaker and arguably their most important player. The freshman attended his aunt’s funeral on Friday, missed Saturday’s practice and was left emotionally, as well as psychologically unprepared to play on Sunday.

“This has been a very challenging week for Rysheed and his family as they have been grieving this tragic loss,” Lavin said on Saturday. “It's clear that Rysheed needs more time before returning to action. He will not suit up for tomorrow's game but will be on the bench to support his teammates. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Rysheed and his family.”

Sunday’s win snapped their two-game losing streak and was their 19th victory of the season, leaving them squarely on the bubble. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Storm among the first four out, along with fellow Big East rival Providence. Georgetown is also on the bubble on the outside looking in, as is Sunday’s opponent Marquette.

“Our team does a good job of locking in and focusing on the task at hand,” Harrison said. “Our job is to win games. We gotta win against Marquette. End of story.” 

They got Harrison back to scoring and Obekpa blocking shots, as well as rebounding on Sunday. In order for St. John’s to make the NCAA Tournament they are going to need Jordan to be 100 percent for their final run.

A win at Marquette on Sunday before they head into conference tournament play, which would mean a season sweep of the Golden Eagles, would go a long way to helping SJU crack the top 68.

“To dig ourselves out of that 0-5 hole [in conference] and to be 9-8 going into this Marquette game is something that, in my career, is gonna stand out as really special,” Lavin said. “And now we’d like to pay it off by making a run and doing something in March.” 

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. 

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