ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — DePaul learned the hard way Wednesday night just how dangerous St. John’s freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison becomes when he gets hot behind the 3-point line.
Harrison knocked down seven 3-pointers and scored 21 of his career- and game-high 29 points in the second half to fuel St. John’s 87-81 comeback victory.
Despite shooting 2 for 10 in the first half, Harrison, who is averaging 24.3 points his last four games, never lost confidence.
“The coaches always do a good job when I’m missing shots … because they believe in me,” Harrison said. “After I hit two, three in a row, it was like I’m going to have a night. I had an incredible night.”
Harrison’s sizzling shooting forced DePaul to key on him along the perimeter, and the Red Storm took advantage inside. St. John’s outrebounded DePaul 37-29, leading to 21 second-chance points.
Two lengthy runs bailed out the Red Storm (10-12, 4-6 Big East), who battled from behind most of the game.
Also reaching double digits for St. John’s were God’sgift Achiuwa with 15 points, Phil Greene with 14 and Amkir Garrett with 12.
Cleveland Melvin scored 22 points and Moses Morgan 19 while Brandon Young had 13 points and 11 assists for DePaul (11-10, 2-7), which was denied its first back-to-back Big East wins since the 2007-08 season.
“We just kept coming back,” St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap said. “It’s a testament to the fact over the last four games we’re playing better as a team.”
The Red Storm trailed by double digits in the first half, but an 11-0 run in the final 4:37 cut the deficit to 31-30 at intermission. During that stretch, DePaul went scoreless and committed four turnovers.
The Blue Demons wasted another lead, this time eight points, midway through the second as a 13-0 run put St. John’s ahead for good.
St. John’s full-court press flustered DePaul and forced some careless passes and turnovers, helping the Red Storm creep back into the game.
“Our style is to press, and when they moved out to a nine-point lead, we moved up our pressure,” Dunlap said. “We put a guy on the ball and we made a full commitment to the press right before halftime. I thought it was the difference-maker.”
In a track meet throughout, St. John’s showed its youth early – five freshmen started – shooting only 28.6 percent through the first 6 minutes as the offense often shot quick jumpers. The Red Storm eventually settled down and shot 50 percent for the game.
Harrison’s scoring outburst made up for leading scorer Moe Harkless shooting 2 for 15 and finishing with nine points. Harkless battled through a thigh injury.
“Even if I wasn’t feeling my best, I could help the team somehow,” Harkless said. “I think I did a good job playing through it.”
While the Blue Demons failed to close out the first 20 minutes strong, they didn’t suffer any hangover after halftime. Melvin scored six straight points to push DePaul’s lead to seven.
But, despite its youth, St. John’s wouldn’t back down. Harrison connected on four 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes of the second half.
“I liked our approach in the first half,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “I liked the pace of the game. With 3 or 4 minutes to play, we had some semblance of control, and then inexplicably we didn’t handle their pressure very well.”
St. John’s Steve Lavin, who is recovering from surgery Oct. 6 for prostate cancer, did not coach against DePaul as part of a modified schedule to his coaching duties. Dunlap coached in his absence.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)