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Chris Obekpa dominates inside in St. John's win over Long Beach State

St. John's Chris Obekpa (12) works inside during

St. John's Chris Obekpa (12) works inside during a game against Long Beach State on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014 at Carnesecca Arena. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

As Chris Obekpa ran up the court after hitting a clock-beating fallaway jumper, he shook his head and laughed. A few seconds later, he was smiling again after his sixth blocked shot of the night.

That's the thing with having a veteran starting lineup: On any given night, any player can have one of those games in which everything is working.

On Monday night, Obekpa's career night helped No. 17 St. John's overcome a sloppy first half in a 66-49 win over Long Beach State at Carnesecca Arena.

The 6-10 junior shone on both ends of the court. He scored a season-high 16 points, shot 7-for-8, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots.

"He's one of the most improved players I've ever seen," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said.

St. John's (10-1) earned its sixth straight win and is off to its best start since 1990-91, when it went 23-9.

"We have a senior group," Obekpa said. "One of our comrades goes down, foul trouble or an off night, we know any of us can step up."

The rest of the starting lineup had to step up as Rysheed Jordan was out with a stomach virus and D'Angelo Harrison had a rare off game prompted by early foul trouble. Harrison, who entered the game leading the Big East with 19.8 points per game, had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Sir'Dominic Pointer added 11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals. Phil Greene IV scored 16 points and Jamal Branch had 11.

"We're a tough team," Pointer said. "We can play through a lot of things. People in foul trouble, people going down."

After a sloppy first half in which both teams struggled -- Long Beach shot 24.3 percent, including 1-for-13 from three-point range, and St. John's had six turnovers in the first eight minutes -- the Red Storm cleaned up its play the rest of the way. St. John's had only one turnover in the next 32 minutes and used a late 15-3 run to pull away.

"I was pleased with our defensive effort," Lavin said. "Long Beach presents a number of problems because of their ability to shoot the ball from long range. Coming in, they're nearly 40 percent from the three-point line.

"This,'' he said of the Red Storm, "is a team that continues to get better."

But the No. 17 ranking still doesn't mean much to his players.

"It's not like it's there forever," Pointer said. "It just says we're playing good right now. It's up to you. You have to keep working."

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