It was a self-inflicted wound. St. John’s has to hope it’s not too deep.
On Saturday night against DePaul, the Red Storm abandoned so many of the things that had helped them win six of their previous seven Big East games and suffered a potentially devastating loss to the last-place Blue Demons, 88-83, at Carnesecca Arena. Their defensive intensity, attacking offensive style and penchant for turning opposition turnovers into points all arrived too late to save them.
The defeat will quiet all the NCAA Tournament talk that has surrounded St. John’s the last couple of weeks and, when the final analysis comes, might be a blemish on their resume that the Red Storm cannot overcome.
The first step toward re-establishing themselves will come when the Red Storm (14-9, 8-8) face 10th-ranked Villanova on Tuesday night.
"This is one of those games where sometimes you get [caught] looking ahead," St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. "We played these guys before. And my warning to our guys was they’re much better than they were when we played them earlier. I just saw them play Seton Hall and they were in position to win that game."
"It’s upsetting, but we’re not going to lay down," said Julian Champagnie, who had 29 points, including five three-pointers. "It’s a bad loss and you have to move on. The next game is ’Nova on the road, which we have to win now. But we had to win that regardless."
St. John’s defense was poor enough to turn DePaul (4-10, 2-10), the worst-shooting team in the conference, into a group that made 63% from the floor Saturday. Shortly after the second half started, Charlie Moore — who was the best player on the floor — had six of his 24 points and two of his eight assists to drive a 15-2 DePaul run that produced a 58-44 lead with 12:59 to go. To that point, the Blue Demons had made 25 of 41 shots, most of them clean looks in the lane.
That’s when the gravity of the situation finally seemed to dawn on St. John’s.
"We always talk about our defense; tonight it was non-existent," Anderson said. "It wasn’t there until we got down deep and started digging in. We got turnovers, but we didn’t do anything with them . . . We settled on offense."
St. John’s played with desperation and got within 81-77 on Dylan Addae-Wusu’s driving layup with 40.9 seconds left but never got it to a one-possession game.
"We picked up our energy too late," Champagnie said. "We knew what was going on the whole game. [Down 14] was when we were like, ‘We have to get out there and make something happen.’ "
But they couldn’t do enough. Champagnie described it as being "out-toughed." DePaul outscored St. John’s 58-18 in the paint.
Isaih Moore scored 16 points and Addae-Wusu had 13, though he made only one of his first 10 shots. Posh Alexander was limited to five points and five assists. Rasheem Dunn shot 1-for-10 and had seven points and six turnovers.
"My job is to keep them in the moment," Anderson said. "Sometimes, you know, you read your clippings and then people show up to play you."