NEWARK -- It took every last tenth of a second against a shorthanded Seton Hall team, but St. John's scored the last five points to squeeze out a 68-67 victory over Seton Hall Thursday night in a near-empty Prudential Center.
It was the first win by the Red Storm (16-9, 6-6 Big East) on the home court of the Pirates (13-12, 4-8) since Feb. 15, 1998, and it enabled St. John's to climb to .500 in Big East play after its 0-5 start.
Seton Hall held a 67-63 lead, but a pair of free throws by Sir'Dominic Pointer and a dunk by JaKarr Sampson tied it at 67 with 1:41 left. The Pirates dominated inside all night, but Fuquan Edwin, who led the Hall with 25 points, missed an open three with about 19 seconds left. The Red Storm ran the clock down until freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan found Chris Obekpa under the hoop with a bounce pass.
Obekpa was fouled with 2.1 seconds left and made the first but missed the second, leaving 1.5 seconds on the clock. He blocked the first inbounds attempt, and the second full-court heave was intercepted by Pointer for the win. D'Angelo Harrison led St. John's with 12 points, and Obekpa was one of three players with 10 for the Storm.
Coming off its upset of then-No. 12 Creighton on Sunday, St. John's came in with momentum after winning six of seven. The Red Storm's chance to improve to .500 in Big East play seemed to improve enormously when Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard announced the suspension for disciplinary reasons of starters Eugene Teague and Brian Oliver.
Sure enough, St. John's took a 14-9 lead as freshman point guard Jordan scored six quick points. But he went to the bench for much of the first half after banging a knee, and the Red Storm's offense stalled.
The defense that was so good down the stretch in holding Creighton's Doug McDermott without so much as a shot in the final eight minutes on Sunday was utterly absent. Forward Patrik Auda scored all of his 12 first-half points on a series of layups and putbacks during a 29-15 run that gave the Pirates a 38-29 lead before two baskets by Pointer trimmed the deficit to five points at halftime.
At that stage, Seton Hall had scored 30 of its 33 field goal points in the paint and had 19 points off 11 Red Storm turnovers. Suddenly, the prospect of reaching .500 didn't look so easy.
Pointer's baskets near the end of the half marked the start of a 15-4 run that put the Red Storm ahead 44-42 when Sampson converted a three-point play with 16:13 left. The Pirates put a nose back in front when Edwin hit a three-pointer at 11:53 for a 52-51 edge. But St. John's used an 8-1 surge, including two layups by the suddenly offense-minded Obekpa, for a 59-53 cushion.
That lead evaporated at the 3:42 mark when Obekpa was whistled for his third goaltending call on a layup attempt by Aaron Geramipoor that gave the Pirates a 64-63 lead. Obekpa followed that with a turnover and his fourth goaltending on a three-point play by Edwin for a four-point lead. But that's where the Red Storm dug in their heels.