Don’t look now, but just two weeks after snapping its disappointing five-game losing streak, St. John’s is suddenly one of the hottest teams in the Big East conference entering the final month of the regular season.
After clobbering Butler and squeaking past Seton Hall last week, the Red Storm jumped all over Marquette 74-59 at home and topped Providence 86-76 on the road this week, with one heartbreaking loss to Creighton sandwiched in between.
The Johnnies lost their first five conference contests, but now have won four of its last five Big East games and five of its last six overall, extending the Red Storm’s record to 14-9 and 4-6 in conference play.
A balanced offense featuring multiple scoring threats propelled the Johnnies last week, and the trend continued into their tilt with Marquette, resulting in a 74-59 win on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
To tip off the month when tournament teams capable of making a strong postseason push normally begin to separate themselves from inferior squads, the Red Storm provided a glimmer of hope that maybe it was ready to prove its worth.
Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison scored a game high 27 points on the strength of six three-pointers, as he continues to establish himself as one of the Big East’s best scorers.
Harrison also moved past Willie Glass and Marcus Hatten, two past Red Storm icons, to move into 17th place on the all-time school scoring list.
Eight other Johnnies scored as well, including a 10-point effort from sophomore JaKarr Sampson and the Red Storm shot 46 percent as a team.
Defensively, center Chris Obekpa swatted seven shots as St. John’s continues to lead the nation with eight blocks per game.
The Red Storm also limited the Golden Eagles to just 34-percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers.
“It was an even game all the way through,” Sampson said. “And that’s what 40 minutes of St. John’s basketball is supposed to look like.”
In Rhode Island on Tuesday, the Red Storm cruised to a 23-point lead early in the second half, but Providence nearly pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in recent Big East history.
Up 67-44 with 15 minutes remaining, the Johnnies suddenly had no answer for the Friars, as Providence’s Bryce Cotton led his team on a 16-0 run to cut the Red Storm’s lead to 67-60 with nine minutes left.
Much like other recent contests, the Red Storm’s version of Bono and The Edge struck a chord and put the game out of reach.
The two-headed scoring monster of Harrison and Sampson both scored after Providence’s big run to swing the momentum back to the Red Storm.
Harrison finished with 22 points, his 11th game over 20 points this year, while Sampson scored 21 and freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan dropped 18 points. Obekpa contributed with 10 points and three blocks of his own.
“This was another positive step for our team,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “I’m proud of the poise and gumption our team exhibited tonight when Providence made a big run at us in the second half. I like the character of this team.”
St. John’s only has one game on the docket over the next week, a Sunday night tilt with Creighton at Madison Square Garden.
If the Red Storm want to find themselves in the NCAA Tournament come March, winning at least six of its final eight games of the year is a must.