Mustapha Heron had the ball at the top of the three-point arc when he spotted David Caraher alone under the basket. St. John’s senior leader didn’t hesitate, firing a bullet through DePaul’s defense to the sophomore, who made the layup and drew the foul.
As the crowd at Madison Square Garden roared its approval, Heron backpedaled to center court with his hands high to exhort it further.
Heron missed three weeks with a serious ankle sprain and played unremarkably in his first two games back, but he reemerged as a central figure for the Red Storm on Saturday. He had 15 points and shot 3-for-6 on three-pointers as St. John’s outlasted the Blue Demons, 74-67, before a crowd of 6,636 for its first Big East win of the season.
“If he’s engaged and he’s doing the things that he’s been doing all his career, then I think it just kind of trickles throughout this team,” Red Storm coach Mike Anderson said. “It has a domino effect and guys shoot it with confidence.”
St. John’s (12-5, 1-3) snapped a three-game losing streak even though it went 0-for-7 from the floor in the final 6:03. The Red Storm’s last basket was Caraher’s layup, and they led 69-57 when he made the free throw.
DePaul (12-4, 0-3) had a chance to make it a two-point game with 42.3 seconds left when Jalen Coleman-Lands was fouled on a three-pointer with the score 71-66, but he missed two and DePaul had to go to a fouling strategy. St. John’s went 3-for-4 from the line after that.
Anderson moved Rasheem Dunn into the starting lineup, replacing Julian Champagnie, and the Cleveland State transfer delivered 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Champagnie came off the bench to score 11 points and shoot 4-for-4. Jaylen Butz scored 17 for DePaul.
During the three-game skid, St. John’s shot 35% from the field and 18% on three-pointers. The Red Storm turned things in the right direction with a mindset to make the extra pass and find the open man. As a result, they had 23 assists on 25 baskets, shot 40% and went 6-for-19 on three-pointers.
“When teams share the ball and move the ball and guys get it on time, good things happen,” Anderson said. “We played with a better rhythm today, trusted one another [and] didn’t care who shot the ball.”
The Red Storm shook off the listlessness they showed in a 21-point loss at Georgetown on Wednesday and again displayed passion and effort on defense. They forced 19 turnovers, turned them into 14 points and limited the Blue Demons to 3-for-15 shooting from three-point range.
“They sped us up physically but, more important, they sped us up mentally,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “We weren’t making the plays . . . [and] they got more confident as things happened for them.”
Heron appeared to be forcing things in his first two games back, shooting 7-for-21 overall and 0-for-9 on threes and averaging 7.5 points. It was a different look for him Saturday.
“I had patience and my teammates got me the ball in the right spots,” he said. “Just tried to let it go and not think about it. I made sure I was locked and loaded every time [because] I make a higher percentage when I am ready to shoot.”