Feb. 10, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
When Doug McDermott and his 12th-ranked Creighton teammates arrived in New York for their first-ever trip to Madison Square Garden, it was his hope it would be the latest chapter of his storied college career, one that has been shared every step of the way by his father, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott.
In a career adorned with MVP awards, conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, a victory in his maiden visit to the World’s Most Famous Arena would be another treasure for his collection. Something else for father and son to talk about once their magical run together comes to an end sometime this spring.
But instead D’Angelo Harrison denied McDermott a storybook ending to his New York adventure as he scored St. John’s final eight points, including a 3-pointer with 2:09 to play that gave the Red Storm the lead for good, as the Johnnies knocked off Creighton, 70-65, before a crowd of 6,739 fans at the Garden.
The victory, St. John’s first over a ranked team this season after four previous defeats, was the third straight for the Red Storm (15-9, 5-6 BIG EAST) and sixth in its last seven games. Creighton, which was led by McDermott’s game-high 25 points, saw its four-game winning streak snapped, dropped to 19-4, 9-2 in the BIG EAST. The loss drops the Bluejays out of first place, a half game behind Villanova.
“We took care of business,” said Harrison, who finished with 19 points, including 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
Creighton was leading, 63-62, after Austin Chatman sank one of two free throws with 2:18 to play. That’s when Harrison took over down the stretch. His late-game surge began with his clutch three-ball that put the Johnnies up for keeps at 65-63 with 2:09 remaining and continued as he sank 5-of-6 free throws in the waning moments of the game. His two foul shots with 5.8 seconds put the finishing touches on St. John’s first signature win of the season.
“Lav (St. John’s coach Steve Lavin) said be aggressive and I had a clear shot,” Harrison said of this 3-pointer. “It was one of the only open shots I had all night so I buried it. Coach does a good job of calling your number and he called mine tonight and I delivered.”
It’s the kind of victory that just may make the rest of the BIG EAST sit up and take notice of a team that was left for dead when it opened the conference season at 0-5.
“It just shows people that we are getting better,” Harrison said. “We’ve closed out a couple of games in a row now. Now that we know we can close games out, once we have a good start and have a lead, we’ll be able to play with anybody in the country.”
Aside from Harrison’s late-game heroics, the story of the evening had to be the Johnnies’ relentless defense, particularly by JaKarr Sampson. With a little help from his friends on occasion, Sampson hounded and harassed McDermott throughout the game but seemed to kick it up a notch in the second half as McDermott was held scoreless for the final 8:41 of the game with his last bucket giving the Bluejays a 59-57 lead.
“They did a great job of taking me away,” McDermott said. “I thought they did a great job of switching whenever I came off screens. They were really disciplined down the stretch. You got to give them a lot of credit.”
Defense, Sampson said, was the only thing on his mind entering the game.
“He’s a really good player but really my mindset this whole game was to focus on defense,” Sampson said. “Pretty much defend him because I felt last game we took all the other players around him out (of the game), no one had double digits except for him. l knew it was going to be a defensive game, we were just going to have to take him out and he still ended up with 25 because he’s a good player. But I felt I did a good job to hold him to his average.”
With that elusive victory versus a ranked opponent now secured, and the Johnnies now starting to creep up the BIG EAST standings, Sir’Dominic Pointer sees better things coming for St. John’s.
“It feels great to get it out of the way,” Pointer said. “We played a lot of ranked teams this year and we hadn’t won any yet. We won 6-of-7 now, I think we’re finding our own little swagger. We’re hard to beat if we play like this.”
For McDermott, his respect for St. John’s just got a little healthier but he also said the loss will only serve as motivation for their next trip to the Garden – in March for the BIG EAST Tournament.
“It’s really going to motivate us,” McDermott said. “This is the first time for a lot of us out here in this building. The emotion was high to start the game, we were really excited. (But) we got to continue to play 40 minutes and not get caught up in the crowd or any of that stuff. You know, (St. John’s) is a really good team, they’re dangerous. They’re competing a lot harder than they were to start the year, you can really see that with their body language.”