In front of a sparsely filled gym due to inclement weather, the contest with Seton Hall on the road at the Prudential Center (Newark, N.J.) on Thursday had the look and feel of a matchup on neutral ground.
Despite the Pirates (13-12, 4-8 BIG EAST) being undermanned, like the first matchup between the two squads this season, the game was closely played. For much of the contest, the pendulum did not swing that far in either direction mainly due to St. John's inability to take good care of the basketball.
Still, the Red Storm (16-9, 6-6) were able to earn its seventh victory in eight games, as it squeaked out a 68-67 win. The victory was the Johnnies' first against Seton Hall on the road since Feb. 15, 1998.
The Pirates led by four points, 67-63, as late as the 3:10 mark in the second half, following the completion of the conventional three-point play by senior swingman Fuquan Edwin. However, St. John's was able to turn the tide with two crucial plays by junior swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer and sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson.
Pointer secured two at the free throw line and, then, Sampson went on to convert a rebound off a missed free throw by Pirates' sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs into a powerful one-handed dunk at the 1:32 mark of the second half, tying the contest at 67.
Seton Hall attempted to stunt the Johnnies' mini-run with a basket of its own, but Johnnies' junior guard D'Angelo Harrison came up with a huge block. On the Pirates' next trip up the court, out of a timeout, with 33.5 seconds left in the matchup, Seton Hall's Edwin attempted a long 3-pointer that missed the mark.
With St. John's back in possession, head coach Steve Lavin[ called a timeout and drew up a play to get the ball closer to the rim. Ultimately, sophomore center Chris Obekpa was fouled and sent to the line with 2.1 seconds on the game clock.
Obekpa made the first and was told to intentionally miss the second attempt to cut down the Pirates' time to execute. As a result, Seton Hall had only 1.5 seconds.
St. John's coaching staff opted to put long and strong Obekpa at the baseline to guard the inbounds pass. Obekpa did not disappoint, as he fiercely deflected the ball out of bounds and left the Pirates with only half of a second to get the job done. The time proved insufficient.
Seton Hall's Edwin finished with a game-high 25 points, 13 of which was scored in the first half, on 8-of-18 from the field, including 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. Teammate, junior forward Patrik Auda was the only other player in double figures, as he added 15 points.
Meanwhile, the Red Storm were led by Harrison's 12 points and six rebounds. Pointer (six boards), Obekpa (five boards) and freshman guard Rysheed Jordan each netted 10 points.
Despite its helter-skelter play, St. John's finished 53.2 percent (25-of-47) from the field. Seton Hall shot 44.8 percent (26-of-58) overall.
For much of the game, key players on the Johnnies' roster played in foul trouble, including Pointer, Jordan and Harrison. In addition to that, the Storm turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 19 times.
The player that struggled the most, finding it difficult to establish an individual rhythm, was Sampson. He seemingly took more of a backseat during the game, posting nine points, four rebounds and four assists.
A surge of vitality in the second stanza allowed St. John's to go ahead by as much as six points, 59-53, after a lay-in by Obekpa off a feed from Jordan at the 7:59 mark of the second half.
Seton Hall led 38-33 at halftime.
As a consequence of repetitive turnovers, St. John's struggled to find a momentum in the first half, allowing the Pirates to earn an advantage of as much as nine points, 38-29, with 1:21 left in first half.
Edwin seemingly thrived on the hardwood, as he and Auda were largely responsible for Seton Hall's first half offensive production, combining on 25 points in the stanza.
St. John's will play Georgetown on Sunday, Feb. 16, at Madison Square Garden (New York, N.Y.). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.