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January 24, 2014

Johnnies Earn First BIG EAST Win





Despite the photo-finish, St. John's secured its first conference game of the season at Carnesecca Arena on Thursday, as the squad escaped Seton Hall, 77-76.

"It's good to win because the kids will have the wind at their back as we go on the road," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin.

The Red Storm (11-8, 1-5 BIG EAST), which were coming off of their first victory after a five-game slide, needed a win over a conference opponent to make other teams in the league look their way again. A win over the Pirates (11-8, 2-4), which recently returned players after some injuries, proved not to be an easy feat for the Johnnies.

After two free throws by Seton Hall's senior swingman Brian Oliver, with 51.9 seconds left in the matchup, a pair at the charity stripe by St. John's junior swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer gave the Red Storm a six-point advantage, 76-70.

With about 27 seconds remaining, the Johnnies' sophomore center Chris Obekpa picked up his fifth personal foul while Pirates' senior swingman Fuquan Edwin secured the and-1. Edwin completed the conventional three-point play, bringing Seton Hall within a one-possession game, 76-73.

To slow game clock, the Pirates fouled junior guard D'Angelo Harrison. Although Harrison is an 84-percent shooter from the free throw line, he uncharacteristically missed both opportunities.

St. John's Pointer fouled Seton Hall's sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs to make him earn them at the stripe. Gibbs sank 1-of-2, inching his team one-point closer to the Johnnies.

Again, to slow the clock, the Pirates fouled -- this time it was freshman guard Rysheed Jordan that was sent to the stripe with 9.2 seconds left in the game. However, Jordan only drained one of his two chances, giving St. John's a three-point advantage, 77-74.

Pointer, seemingly attempting to ensure the final possession went to the Storm, fouled Gibbs again. With nerves of steel, Gibbs knocked down a pair of clutch free throws, putting the Pirates within striking distance, 77-76.

A misstep by the Johnnies sent the ball sailing out of bounds. The turnover gave the ball to Seton Hall with 4.3 seconds left on the game clock.

When the ball got to the hands of Seton Hall's Edwin, a huge help defensive play by Pointer resulted in the ball being poked loose as time ticked and the buzzer sounded.

"Of course I was taking a chance, but I felt I had the freedom to do that," said Pointer. "He (Edwin) could've picked the ball up and threw it to my guy, but I took the chance and it paid off."

St. John's had a three-way tie for team-high as sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson, senior forward Orlando Sanchez and Harrison each posted 16 points. Harrison tacked on a team-high six rebounds.

The Red Storm finished shooting 50.9 percent (29-of-57) for the game, which included 25 percent (3-of-12) from 3-point range. However, in a matchup where rebounding numbers were low, the Johnnies were -5 on the boards (29-24).

St. John's used a 15-1 run over the course of 3:26, to hold its largest lead of the game by the nine-minute mark of the second half. Paced by a breakthrough performance from junior guard Jamal Branch, the Johnnies led by as much as 17 points, 65-48.

During the surge, Branch recorded seven points. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-8 from the field and three steals.

That run was a part of an overall outscoring of the Pirates 24-8, which began at the 16:05 mark of the second stanza when the Johnnies held only a one-point advantage, 41-40.

However, team work by Edwin, Gibbs and teammate junior forward Patrick Auda helped the Pirates claw back to make the game interesting.

Gibbs had a game-high 20 points, while Oliver, who was lethal from 3-point range, finished with 19 points on 6-of-13 from the field, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range. Teammates Edwin and Auda added 12 points apiece.

Seton Hall had a solid shooting night overall, as well, netting 52.1 percent (25-of-48) of its baskets, including 38.1 percent (8-of-21) from beyond the arc.

St. John's led Seton Hall 35-29 at halftime.

The Red Storm trailed by as much as 10 points, 13-3, at the 15:54 mark of the first stanza. Sustained by a huge defensive effort by St. John's that resulted in 15 first-half turnovers, the Johnnies went on to outscore the Pirates 32-16 for the remainder of the period.

Sanchez recorded 11 of his 16 points in the first half.


St. John's commences a two-game BIG EAST road trip on Saturday, Jan. 25 when it plays Butler at the Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, Ind.). The Red Storm will follow that up with a visit to the CenturyLink Center (Omaha, Neb.) to face Creighton on Tuesday, Jan. 28.





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