Jamal Branch has career game to lift St. John's to win at DePaul

DePaul's Donnavan Kirk pressures St. John's Chris Obekpa

DePaul's Donnavan Kirk pressures St. John's Chris Obekpa during the second half. (Jan. 19, 2013) (Credit: AP)

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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- A new, smaller lineup featuring Jamal Branch making his second straight start for St. John's helped build a 17-point lead, only to see that cushion evaporate.

That's when D'Angelo Harrison came through down the stretch in the Red Storm's 71-62 victory at DePaul Saturday.

Branch scored 14 of his career-high 18 points in the first half for St. John's (11-7, 3-3 Big East), which used two big second-half runs to take a 63-46 lead with less than eight minutes left.

DePaul (10-8, 1-4) scored the next 10 points and later pulled within 65-62 on Moses Morgan's three-pointer with 2:26 left. The Red Storm's JaKarr Sampson missed from in close on the next possession, seemingly giving the home team a chance to get closer.

But the Blue Demons never scored again. Harrison came up with a steal in the backcourt and was fouled on a drive, making two at the line for a five-point edge. He added three more foul shots down the stretch as the Red Storm held on.

"I took a gamble, a risk, and I got it and I got fouled," Harrison said. "It was big for us."

Branch shot 9-for-14 from the field and had four steals and three assists in a career-high 38 minutes. The Texas A&M transfer was employed in the middle of the floor to counter DePaul's full-court press.

"Jamal Branch is our most natural playmaker and ballhandler," coach Steve Lavin said of the guard. "We try to give him some space with that high ball screen and similar to an option quarterback in football, let him make his reads."

Branch said he wasn't affected by wearing goggles for the first time after the eye injury he suffered against Cincinnati. He's averaging 14 points and shooting 61 percent in his last three games.

"All we have to do is listen to our coaches -- it's that plain and simple," Branch said. "They give us a good scouting report. That's all we have to do."

Harrison finished with 15 points and Sir'Dominic Pointer had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Red Storm, which scored 24 points off 18 turnovers. Sampson added 10 points.

The Red Storm took the lead for good with a 10-0 burst capped by Amir Garrett's basket for a 47-39 lead with 14:16 left. St. John's delivered an 11-0 run a few minutes later.

Sampson started it with back-to-back baskets that gave the Red Storm its first double-digit lead at 56-46. A steal led to a Red Storm fast break as Branch fed Harrison for a three-point play and a 13-point bulge.

Chris Obekpa put home a resounding dunk before outfighting two DePaul players for an offensive rebound and a layup to make it 63-46, setting up a dramatic finish St. John's would like to avoid in the future. "We haven't been able to sustain a level of play for 40 minutes yet," Lavin said. "That's the elusive goal."

Harrison thinks Branch definitely will help. "Having more threats on the court now means you can't help so much, you can't double-team me as much," he said. "If you're going to help, Jamal is going to have a night like he had tonight."

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