NEW YORK (AP) - St. John's is in third place in the Big East Conference. No comments about the teams the Red Storm beat during their current five-game winning streak. Don't bring up how early in the season it is, either. They are doing some impressive things considering they are one of the youngest teams in the country.
The latest win was a 79-74 overtime decision against DePaul on Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena. It was the sixth Big East victory for the Red Storm (14-7, 6-3), matching last season's total.
``We have a lot of momentum and, so what teams are doubting us because most of the wins were against the bottom half?' said D'Angelo Harrison, who had 17 points for the Red Storm. ``We're going to come in ready to fight at Georgetown so they better be ready, too.'
The streak started with a win over then-No. 20 Notre Dame. Then came wins over DePaul, Rutgers and Seton Hall before DePaul lost to the Red Storm for a second time.
St. John's plays Georgetown on Saturday and then faces Connecticut at Madison Square Garden followed by road games with No. 6 Syracuse and No. 12 Louisville, the teams ahead of the Red Storm in the standings.
``Third place is big for us after people picked us 12th in the preseason,' freshman JaKarr Sampson said.
Sampson is ready for the next four games.
``I feel like we're ready. I'm ready,' he said. ``This is why I came to St. John's, to play big-time games like Louisville and Syracuse. We want to compete with those teams.'
St. John's coach Steve Lavin was asked if the upcoming stretch of games would let everybody know how good his team is.
``After three years in this league as a coach I found you just can't look for any universal truths out of a stretch of four or five games,' he said. ``Just keep coaching and stay on the path of improvement until we see how things finish. You have to wait for the body of work.'
The Red Storm looked to be in trouble late against the Blue Demons, especially since Harrison had fouled out with 3:45 to play in regulation.
St. John's managed to tie it late in regulation and then controlled the overtime behind Sampson, who scored six of his 13 points in the extra 5 minutes.
``You feel helpless,' Harrison, the Big East's second-leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, said of sitting on the bench for the game's last 8:45. ``I have faith in my teammates and they have faith in me. It was a grind-it-out game and we grinded.'
Brandon Young had 21 points for the Blue Demons (10-10, 1-6), who have lost five straight and seven of eight overall. They have lost eight in a row to St. John's.
``We've won a lot of games in the last 6 minutes. And we lost this one in the last 6 minutes,' DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. ``We had two 6-minute periods of time where there was 6 minutes left in the game and the score was tied, and there was a 5-minute overtime and the score is tied. Clearly, we did one of the three things we needed to do to win a 6-minute game very well and that was shoot free throws (18 of 20). We didn't take care of the ball a couple times and we didn't rebound defensively a couple times when we really needed to.'
Sampson's rebound basket with 1:49 left in overtime gave the Red Storm the lead for good at 75-74. Young missed a foul line jumper and, as Sir'Dominic Pointer went in for a layup, Young fouled him hard and a flagrant 1 was called. Pointer made both free throws - the Red Storm went 4 for 10 from the line in overtime - and even though St. John's didn't score on the ensuing possession, Sampson went 2 for 4 from the line to seal the win.
``I thought it was (a flagrant foul) right away but I think it looked worse than it was,' Pointer said. ``They made the call.'
Jamal Branch made two free throws for St. John's with 1:18 left in regulation to tie it at 69. DePaul was called for offensive goaltending on its next possession. Sampson missed a jumper for the Red Storm and Young missed a 3-point attempt with 15 seconds left.
After a scramble near midcourt fouling the inbounds, Sampson missed a shot from down low at the buzzer. A foul was called against DePaul but the officials went to the monitor and ruled the foul came after the buzzer.
Phil Greene had 13 points for St. John's and Pointer had 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Cleveland Melvin had 10 points and 13 rebounds for DePaul, which finished with a 52-39 advantage on the boards.
DePaul finished the first half with a 28-15 edge on the boards - 12-4 on the offensive end - although St. John's led 38-31, the largest lead for either team to that point.
St. John's freshman Chris Obekpa, who leads the nation in blocked shots at 4.6 per game, had five to give him 96 for the season.
``Obekpa is such a good shot blocker,' Purnell said. ``When he was in the game, he really changed some things. There's no question about it, St. John's really defended the rim pretty well. And they did at the end of the game. As well as we rebounded, we didn't come up with the critical rebounds we needed in overtime.'
The Associated Press News Service
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