Forget being called a Cinderella story, St. John’s is looking more and more like a buzz saw as the Red Storm enter the final three weeks leading up to postseason play.
One month ago, it would have been hard to imagine that the Johnnies would be sitting in fifth place in the Big East and have the third-most wins overall of any team in the conference, but here they are. The Red Storm are winners of six straight games and nine out of 10 contests, and now own a 18-9 record.
Left for dead by many basketball experts and area writers like myself, the Red Storm have miraculously came back to life. Now, they are playing arguably their best basketball since the 2010-2011 season in which the team made the NCAA Tournament.
Over the last week, the Red Storm defeated Seton Hall on the road 68-67 on Thursday for the first time since 1998, blew out rival Georgetown 82-60 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and crushed Butler 77-52 at The World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday.
Around 200 people braved last Thursday’s snowstorm to come watch the Red Storm battle the Pirates, and they were rewarded with an entertaining contest.
The two schools traded the lead back and forth throughout most of the contest, with St. John’s managing to erase a four-point deficit in the final three minutes to tie the game at 67. With two seconds left, Red Storm center Chris Obekpa was fouled under the basket and he managed to hit one-of-two free throws to seal the win.
When the Johnnies last battled Georgetown in early January, the Hoyas had the game under wraps early in the first half and led by over 30 points for most of the second half. This time, it was Georgetown that found themselves being dismantled piece by piece.
Freshman Rysheed Jordan and junior D’Angelo Harrison each scored 24 points for the Johnnies, Jordan’s career-high, as the Red Storm were in control from the very start.
St. John’s scored the first 15 points of the contest, leaving Georgetown without a bucket for the first six minutes of the contest. Even though Georgetown cut the lead to seven with 10 minutes left, the Red Storm were able to pull away on the strength of a balanced offensive attack.
Unfortunately for the Johnnies, the school announced that Obekpa, the Big East’s leading shot-blocker, sprained his ankle in practice on Monday and will miss the next two weeks.
Even without their defensive force, the Red Storm managed to trounce Butler, but Saturday’s road contest against ninth-ranked Villanova should provide the toughest matchup yet for St. John’s.
“We’re still going to rebound and let our defense create our offense,” forward JaKarr Sampson said. “But whenever your leading shot blocker and leader on defense is out, you know there is going to be some change.”
With St. John’s on the tournament bubble, a win over ‘Nova should be the resume builder they need this late in the season.