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January 29, 2014

McDermott, Creighton Escape SJU Comeback

After a roller coaster ride throughout the second half, the matchup that paired St. John's with No. 20/20 Creighton came down to just one play.

A great sequence designed by head coach Greg McDermott set up his son, 6-foot-8, senior forward Doug McDermott with a wide-open 3-pointer. The ball drank from the bottom of the well with 2.5 seconds left, pulling the Bluejays (18-3, 8-1 BIG EAST) ahead by three points, 63-60 -- the final score.

The Red Storm (12-9, 2-6) were unable to get a last shot off to tie, as junior guard Phil Greene airballed an attempt from near half-court.

St. John's seemed eager to continue its new streak in conference by sealing a second win on the road at the CenturyLink Center Omaha (Omaha, Neb) on Tuesday. So much so that after falling behind by a tremendous margin, the Johnnies staged a comeback from 18 points down.

"You go through a course of a season and you always look back at a couple of games where just about anything could have happened and the outcome could have gone either way, and we haven't had a lot of those games," said Greg McDermott. "We had a chance tonight to put St. John's away and, to their credit, we weren't able to do that. We made uncharacteristic mistakes and that's a good message for us...that we can improve as a team."

The Johnnies never led in the game, but were able to tie the matchup at 60 on two free throws by freshman guard Rysheed Jordan with 11.1 seconds on the game clock.

Prior to the opportunity at the charity stripe, officials made a questionable call on Jordan that could have resulted in an and-1 opportunity for the rookie, but referees charged him with an offensive foul instead with 52.3 seconds left on the game clock.

In the contest with the Bluejays, it seemed as if McDermott was Creighton, as the Johnnies were able to contain the steady offensive production of every player except him.

McDermott, who was the bread-and-butter of Creighton's offense, finished with a dominating performance from the field. He had a season-high 39 points on 15-of-26 overall, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range, in 37 minutes of playing time. McDermott tacked on six rebounds and two assists.

Prior to the contest, McDermott needed just 22 points to move into 18th place on the Division-I all-time scoring list.

"Our game plan was not to worry about McDermott and stop everybody else and we thought we could beat them," said St. John's men's basketball special advisor Gene Keady to St. John's Basketball Network on Bloomberg Radio. "But that plan didn't work out very well."

The Red Storm did not seem to really come alive until after the Bluejays used a 17-3 run to open the second half. The surge led to an 18-point advantage, 46-28, by the 12:43 mark of the stanza.

St. John's junior guard D'Angelo Harrison, who netted only two points in the first half, stepped up big in the game's final 12:26 and finished with 15 points.

With some contributions on both ends of the floor from sophomore center Chris Obekpa, as well as Jordan, using a 13-4 run, the Johnnies snipped their deficit down to nine points, 50-41, with 7:55 left in the contest.

The Storm's sole 3-pointer of the game, which came from the hands of Harrison at the 4:51 mark of the second half, seemingly broke the backs of the Bluejays, as the Johnnies went on a 15-4 surge to tie the game at 58.

Obekpa and Jordan each had 11 points in the loss. Obekpa, who had a standout performance, also had five rebounds and was able to keep his fouling numbers limited to just one.

"He probably had his best game of his career," said Keady of Obekpa. "It's always nice to see players that work hard in practice get rewarded."

Johnnies' sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson had 10 points and six boards.

St. John's shot 42.9 percent (24-of-56) from the field, including just 10 percent (1-of-10) from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Creighton netted 48.9 percent (23-of-47) from the field, which included 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from downtown.

Despite McDermott's individual game, the Red Storm executed great pressure defense on the interior as well as at the perimeter that frustrated the competition, forcing Creighton to commit 17 turnovers and holding all of McDermott's teammates under 10 points.

Creighton's second highest scorer was junior guard Austin Chatman, who finished with only seven points.

St. John's trailed the Bluejays, 29-25, at halftime. McDermott netted 20 of his squad's first-half points.

With the loss to Creighton, the Johnnies are now 0-4 against nationally ranked opponents. The three-point differential would be the closest margin since the Storm's five-point defeat (68-63) to the undefeated and then-No. 2/3 Syracuse on Dec. 15.

St. John's returns home to face Marquette at Madison Square Garden (New York, N.Y.) on Saturday, Feb. 1. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

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