With five straight conference losses under the belt, it was no surprise St. John's (11-8, 1-5) first Big East victory was a fight to the finish. Instead of falling apart down the stretch as they have all season, though, Lavin's group held on and defeated Seton Hall (11-8, 2-4) in its final home game at Carnesecca Arena this year.
On Chris Mullin bobblehead night and with Monta Ellis in the stands watching, the Johnnies fell behind 13-3 early and it looked like St. John's was on the verge of losing in a rout. But, thanks to fifteen first half turnovers by Seton Hall and and a strong first half from Orlando Sanchez (16 points, 6-9 shooting) the Red Storm were able to turn things around and take a 35-29 lead into the half.
The Red Storm kept their foot on the gas to open the second half and poured it on the Pirates, clicking on all cylinders for the first time all season. With a Jamal Branch-Rysheed Jordan-JaKarr Sampson-D'Angelo Harrison-Orlando Sanchez lineup on the floor, the Red Storm pushed the ball and played with an offensive aggressiveness that they haven's shown in Big East play. The result was a 65-48 lead with just under nine minutes to go in the game. Sampson, in particular, was impressive. Playing with great energy that set the tone for the rest of his teammates, the sophomore forward finished with 16 points on 8-11 shooting and 4 boards in 27 minutes.
With the Red Storm pulling away, Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard switched into a zone defense and St. John's achilles heel was exposed. Facing a zone, the Red Storm settled for bad jumpers and went cold from the floor as Seton Hall went on a 13-2 run of its own to make it a six-point game and the Red Storm were on the ropes down the stretch once again.
In the final minute, the contest came down to free throws and bizarre plays. With 27 seconds to go, Seton Hall's Fuquan Edwin (12 points) grabbed an offensive board, made the basket and was fouled. After hitting the free throw, the score was 76-73 in favor of the Red Storm. On the other end, Harrison missed both free throws. Instead of letting the Hall attempt a 3-pointer, St. John's fouled Sterling Gibbs (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) who hit one of two free throws to make it a 76-74 game with 14 seconds left. On the other end, Rysheed Jordan (7 points, 6 assists) made one of two then Gibbs was fouled again and made both free throws to make it a 77-76 game in favor of St. John's.
With 4.3 seconds left, Sir'Dominic Pointer threw an inbounds pass the length of the floor after he couldn't find anyone open. In a stroke of good luck that has evaded the Johnnies as of late, Orlando Sanchez tapped the ball just as it was going out of bounds so Seton Hall still had to go the length of the floor on the inbounds instead of being awarded the ball underneath St. John's basket. Fuquan Edwin then had the ball stripped by Pointer at half-court and time expired to give the Red Storm its first conference win of the season.
St. John's takes on Butler this Saturday before facing Creighton on Tuesday. Both games are on the road.