Five weeks of quality basketball. Eight wins in 10 games. Upsets of Villanova and Connecticut. It all went up in smoke Saturday at empty Carnesecca Arena.
The team that played its way into NCAA Tournament consideration didn’t show up at either end of the floor. Instead, the group that started the league season 1-5 was the one wearing the white St. John’s jerseys.
This was supposed to be a walk in the park, a soft game before a showdown at Villanova. Instead it was likely a death knell to their tournament hopes, an 88-83 loss to Big East cellar-dweller DePaul. What a disappointment for St. John’s fans.
St. John’s (14-9, 8-8) was off-kilter offensively and absent defensively. The Red Storm couldn’t defend the paint or score inside. Their pressure had no impact. They made bad decisions, committing 14 turnovers, and hit just 12 of 33 3-pointers. Their bench, so effective of late, was outscored 49-32 by DePaul (4-10, 2-10).
The defensive end, the strength during the Johnnies’ surge over the past month, was nonexistent. DePaul shot 63 percent from the field and annihilated St. John’s, 58-18, in the paint.
Blue Demons point guard Charlie Moore was the best player on the floor, notching 24 points and eight assists after missing the last two games with a knee injury.
Julian Champagnie scored 29 points for the Red Storm, but nobody else could find it. Rasheem Dunn shot 1-for-10 from the field and had six turnovers. Posh Alexander missed seven of nine shots. Dylan Addae-Wusu shot 4-for-13.
DePaul led 9-3 early, a sign of the 40 minutes ahead. The Blue Demons were up by 10 at one point in the first half, and although the lead was just one at the break, things got much worse in the second half for St. John’s.
The Red Storm missed 16 of their first 18 shots after halftime and found themselves down by 14 with 12:59 left. They began pressing, forcing shots and were unable to stay in front of DePaul.
Eventually, St. John’s put together an 8-0 run and was within five after two Isaih Moore free throws with 3:51 left. But the Johnnies couldn’t get over the hump. Twice, they got within five, but couldn’t convert, and DePaul answered on the other end of the floor.