NEW YORK (AP) — Amir Garrett is the new kid on the youngest team you can have.
The Los Angeles native is starting to fit in nicely at St. John’s as one of the five freshmen starters.
He had season-highs of 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the Red Storm to a 79-72 victory over DePaul on Monday night and a season sweep of the regular-season series.
Garrett, a 6-foot-6 left-hander whose fastball has been clocked at 96 mph, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 22nd round in June. He signed a contract with a $1 million signing bonus in August and will begin his professional baseball career this summer. He didn’t become eligible to join St. John’s until Dec. 21 and he may have caught his fellow freshmen.
“If you saw me when I first started playing I was scared to take shots,” Garrett said. “I didn’t want to mess up too much. I was worried about a lot of stuff. I’ve calmed down. My teammates trust me and I trust them. Basically that’s it. I just feel confident.”
Garrett, whose previous high was 12 points in the first game against the Blue Demons, came in averaging 6.2 points.
D’Angelo Harrison scored 23 points and Moe Harkless added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Red Storm (12-16, 5-10 Big East), who have won two straight after losing four in a row. They moved into sole possession of 11th place in the 16-team conference.
The Fresh Five are 4-4 as a starting unit. St. John’s has only a six-man rotation.
“We have more experience each day,” said Harrison, who had six assists, five rebounds and was 3 of 7 from 3-point range. “It is a challenge for us. Each game is a learning experience. We’re doing a good job now of closing out games and it’s paying off.”
Cleveland Melvin had 18 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for the Blue Demons (11-16, 2-13), who have lost seven straight and 12 of 13.
DePaul’s last game was an overtime loss to Louisville, and except for a blowout loss at Connecticut, the team that starts three sophomores and two freshmen has been around at the end of recent games.
“We’ve been playing some pretty good basketball the last six of seven games,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “We’re just not getting over the hump. It’s a young team trying to learn how to win and we’re struggling right now.”
St. John’s had two field goals — the second with 10 seconds left — over the final 4:46 but the Red Storm went 10 for 12 from the free throw line over that span to hold off DePaul, which stayed within six points until the final basket.
The Red Storm came into the game shooting 68.3 percent from the line.
“The story of the game was kind of invisible, it was the free throws,” said St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap. “We were able to rest. Every time they fouled it’s like a timeout and we get to rest while everyone gets set and the officials hand over the ball.”
They also made them, finishing 25 of 36 with Garrett going 9 for 11 and Harrison 10 of 12.
The man with the fastball talked about slowing down.
“Man, I’ve been in the gym shooting a lot of free throws,” he said. “I’m trying to slow down. I get too fast and lose it a little bit.”
Brandon Young added 17 points and Jamee Crockett had 15 but he was 1 for 11 from 3-point range. The Blue Demons, who came in shooting 34.1 percent from beyond the arc, finished 6 of 31 (19.4 percent).
“It was one of those late-season games where both teams wanted it down the stretch,” Purnell said. “I thought St. John’s got to the rim well. We probably shot a few too many 3-pointers. We had some open looks that I thought should have gone down for us and they didn’t. We didn’t play real smart defensively towards the end of the game. We were shooting jump shots to try and catch back up. Obviously, if those shots go in, you’ll catch up and if you miss, you don’t.”
St. John’s which came in last in the conference in 3-point shooting at 27.9 percent, finished 4 for 11 (36.4 percent).
Garrett’s previous high was 12 points in the first game against the Blue Demons. He came in averaging 6.2 points. Garrett, a 6-foot-6 left-hander from Los Angeles whose fastball has been clocked at 96 mph, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 22nd round in June. He signed a contract with a $1 million signing bonus in August and will begin his professional baseball career this summer.
This was the last game of the season at on-campus Carnesecca Arena where the Red Storm went 7-1. They have one game left at Madison Square Garden — No. 20 Notre Dame on Saturday — where they are 3-7 this season.
The St. John’s coaching staff wore blue bow ties as part of On The Line “Statement Week,” an effort to raise awareness for prostate cancer. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin underwent prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. He coached four games in November before being told by doctors to follow a modified schedule that keeps him off the bench but allows him to attend some practices and recruit.
St. John’s, which has won six straight over DePaul, leads the all-time series 15-14.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)