Call St. John's match against DePaul Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena a classic trap game. The Red Storm defeated the Blue Demons less than two weeks ago, is riding a four-game winning streak and can reach the midpoint of its Big East schedule with an unexpected 6-3 record.
But even a player as young and naive as freshman Chris Obekpa knows better than to expect DePaul (10-9, 1-5 Big East) to roll over and play dead for St. John's (13-7, 5-3). "We went to their house and disgraced them," Obekpa said. "They will want to do the same thing and prove a point. We know they're coming in full force, so we can't just sit back and say, 'It's a home game, we're good. We beat them once. It's going to happen again.' No."
Guard Phil Greene, who was scoreless playing in front of his hometown Chicago crowd, wants to redeem himself for that performance, but he knows the Blue Demons will use that loss as motivation. "They want revenge and want to come beat us on our home court," Greene said. "They have motivation, so we have to come out hard so we don't let that happen."
Although St. John's scored a convincing 71-62 victory in the first meeting and led by as many as 17 points, coach Steve Lavin said he would remind his players how they allowed the lead to slip to three points in the final minutes and only held on because they were able to convert foul shots down the stretch.
Lavin called DePaul's Cleveland Melvin "as impressive a prospect as we've faced in conference play in terms of his versatility" and noted that Jamee Crockett enjoyed an exceptional game against the Red Storm with 19 points.
"Overall, because of their athletic ability and because they closed the game so strongly against us, our team is aware that we'll have our hands full, as we always do," Lavin said. "We really haven't had a game this year where it hasn't been [difficult], and I think that's helped our team's development. The game pressure allows our team to mature at an accelerated rate."
Only one of St. John's four straight wins came by a double-digit margin, and it's vital that the Red Storm wins the games in which they're favored to position themselves for a second-half run in the Big East season and build their resume for an NCAA bid. St. John's has had "bad" losses to UNC-Asheville and San Francisco and can't afford another in that category. Not with a difficult schedule of games to follow against Georgetown, Connecticut, Syracuse and Louisville, including three road tests.
As Lavin said, "This is a big game, obviously."