St. John's

JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s tied for 3rd in Big East after win over Seton Hall

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Freshman JaKarr Sampson scored 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the floor as St. John’s defeated Seton Hall, 71-67, Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

It was Sampson’s seventh straight game scoring in double figures and he continues to build his strong resume for the league’s Rookie of the Year. With the victory, St. John’s moves into a tie for third place in the Big East conference after being chosen to finish 10th in the preseason media poll.

The Red Storm have struggled through some growing pains, including a loss to UNC-Asheville at home to end the non-conference season and shooting 36 percent in a loss to Georgetown on Jan. 12, but have now won four games in a row and have pulled into a tie for third in the Big East with a conference mark of 5-3.

Despite aging by one year and being older than the historically young team St. John’s sent to the floor last season, this is still one of the youngest teams in the country. The starting lineup Sunday against Seton Hall featured four sophomores and a freshman.

They showed maturity down the stretch Sunday after letting a 16-point second-half lead dwindle down to just one with 4:22 to play. Sophomore D’Angelo Harrison led all scorers with 24 points and hit two big off-balance jumpers and four free throws in the final 2:30 of regulation to help seal the win.

St. John’s leads the country in blocks, led by freshman Chris Obekpa (4.6 blocks per game), which allows for more defensive gambling on the perimeter from its guards. With Obekpa as a shot blocker around the rim, the length and athleticism on the perimeter becomes more bothersome for opponents and offers one of the more unique, though undersized defensive attacks in the conference.

St. John’s already has quality conference wins over Cincinnati on the road and Notre Dame, and now moves on to another winnable game at home against DePaul on Jan. 30. The road in the Big East is a difficult one, but that also gives coach Steve Lavin and  his team a chance to chalk up quality wins and built a postseason-worthy resume.

So could we be talking about an NCAA tournament bubble team? Lavin has already taken one of his St. John’s teams dancing, and the young Red Storm are on the right path for some kind of postseason berth, come March.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: