Charity Shots Push DePaul Over St. John's

Foul shooting: for good or bad, plenty of it was on display on Saturday afternoon as DePaul edged out a must win over St. John's 52-48 at Madison Square Garden before a crowd of 6,233. DePaul came into the game on the heels of an awful display at the foul line last Saturday vs. Villanova only hitting 10 of 23 free throws.

Perhaps something in the New York water somehow made this group of Blue Demons a confident group at the line. They sank 13 of 14 free throws; the only miss was by Sammy Mejia when the team was up 4 with 2 seconds to go, rendering it meaningless. Conversely St. Johns was only 9 of 17 at the charity stripe.

"We lost three out of our last four games at the free throw line or that had a direct effect on the outcome (of those games), so I'm real proud of the kids," remarked DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. "We were 5 for 17 down 3 against Villanova, and we missed a game winner against Rutgers, we missed two that would have given us a three point lead against Providence on the front end of one and one both times we played them."

When I say there was foul shooting, I mean there was some foul shooting. Both teams combined to shoot 35-97 from the field with DePaul a slightly better 36.2 from the field than St. John's 36%.

It was a sloppy first half with neither team seizing any momentum. St. John's had its biggest lead of the game at 17-11 near the end of the first half, but DePaul's Draelon Burns, who scored a game high 16 points, came off the bench and provided some scoring punch. Burns scored on two straight possessions. Then Cliff Clinkscales drove to the basket for a lay-up to cap off a 6-0 run to tie the game at 17. The teams headed to half tied, both at a measly 19 points each.

Law of averages made the second half a little more enjoyable to watch as there was more ebb and flow to the game. St. John's quickly jumped out to a four point lead after the half. But DePaul came back with good touch from the perimeter with Burns, Wilson Chandler, and Karron Clarke each hitting three pointers to put DePaul up 32-27.

"We have a saying, play the first half to get to the second half. We went through a stretch where we lost a lot of games in the first half," said Wainwright when asked why the team played better in the second half. "Go back in our season, we have started extremely slowly several times. So over the last four games or so, we have really tried to play much closer to the vest. Longer possessions move the ball more, and not worry so much about scoring but try to get the first 20 minutes over. Then make some adjustments and get into the second half."

DePaul extended their lead to nine on an alley-oop dunk from Mejia to Chandler to forge DePaul ahead 40-31. St. John's quickly started to work that deficit down. Out of a timeout, St. John's got it down low to Lamont Hamilton (he finished with a team high 15 points) who finished a three point play to cut the lead quickly to 40-34. That was all the momentum the Red Storm needed as they buckled up on defense and caused DePaul into a few turnovers and got Marlon Brumfield to foul out. St. John's proceeded to tie the game at 40 when Cedric Jackson drove the length of court and got fouled and sank both free throws.

DePaul calmly came back with a key three point bucket by Burns. A key steal and jumper by Mejia cushioned DePaul's lead to six at 47-41 and it might have appeared DePaul was about to put the game away.

Not so fast! Ricky Torres, who had a solid game for St. John's with 12 points, quickly hit a shot to pull St. John's within four. Then the wheels almost came off when DePaul was called for a five second violation. On the next possession Torres drilled a long range three pointer to pull St. John's to within one at 47-46. But for something that was missing in previous games, DePaul found its stroke at the line nailing five down the stretch to secure the win with the aforementioned Mejia icing the game with 2.6 to go in the game. "Obviously I am trying not to think about the past and worry, but think about the moment at hand. I was enjoying the moment. It's fun being in close games and putting yourself in position to help your team succeed. My guys had confidence in me," remarked Mejia on his free throw shooting. Mejia finished seven of eight at the line to end the game with 15 points.

"We put ourselves in a hole," commented St. John's coach Norm Roberts. "Give them (DePaul) credit. They were a team that was shooting free throws really badly. And they did a good job. They made them."

"Its (free throw shooting) obviously such an important outcome in a league like ours where everybody doesn't go to the tournament," added Wainwright. "Every game has such incredible pressure. That pressure has been communicated from the coaches into the players. When you count players, it makes free throws even a little bit more difficult. You hope they're able to stand up to it and they are able do some good things with it over a period of time."

DePaul earned an all-important win if they have hopes of coming back to Madison Square Garden. They are now at 3-9 in the conference, 10-13 overall while St. John's fell to 4-9 in the conference, 11-13 overall.

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