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.