The Johnnies did not let their newly earned ranking go to their head.
Twenty-third ranked St. John’s (18-9, 10-5) defeated DePaul at a sold out Carnesecca Arena, 76-51, in their first game as a ranked team in over ten years. They have now won seven of eight, including five in a row.
This is the third straight year St. John’s has beaten DePaul by at least 20 points; over that time DePaul (7-20, 1-14) has won just two games within the conference.
“I felt this was the biggest game of the year,” said Coach Steve Lavin. “Because there’s a natural tendency of human nature to exhale or to be complacent or distracted when we’ve hit some benchmarks recently.”
Dwight Hardy continued making his case for Big East Player of the Year with 21 points, his 11th game with 20 or more points on the season, and D.J. Kennedy added his 13th career double-double finishing with 11 points and 10 boards.
An 11-0 run, shortly followed by a 12-0 run gave St. John’s a 19-point cushion in the first half and they never allowed the game get closer than 15 points.
“We were able to build a comfortable lead and then salt the game away down the stretch,” said Lavin.
A zone defense DePaul Coach Oliver Purnell called the “best [he’s] seen all season” set the tone for the Johnnies early allowing the Blue Demons to shoot just over 30 percent for the game.
“We came out with a good defensive mindset and that led to easy buckets,” said Kennedy.
Much to the delight of the fans at the game, St. John’s empted their bench with a comfortable lead and just over two minutes left in the game.
Chants of “We want Kevin” turned to cheers when senior walk-on Kevin Clark made his fourth appearance of the season, even executing a pretty no-look pass on a fast break that got the fans, and his teammates, on their feet. A pass Hardy and Kennedy both called a ten. “You won’t see no better [pass],” said Kennedy.
St. John’s improved their record at Carnesecca Arena to 420-80, in the 500th game played in the campus arena they’ve called home since 1961. This year they have struggled on campus, winning just three of five games there going into last night’s game, which was something the team was focused on changing.
“Seems like our energy level hasn’t been as high [at Carnesecca Arena] as it was at the Garden,” said Hardy of his team that has gone 7-1 at the Garden. “Tonight, we just wanted to make sure we started good and didn’t have any letups and I think we did a great job of that.”
St. John’s is now tied for third in the Big East, just a game behind second place Notre Dame.
Having played ten ranked teams already, the Johnnies realized that they will get teams best shots as a ranked team. They are now a game on the schedule teams look at and circle. In their first test, they passed. Their next test comes on Saturday at #15 Villanova at 2 p.m.