|Max Strus. @DePaulHoops.|
St. John's has always had issues covering DePaul guard Max Strus, and Sunday was no different, as he scored 43 points to lead the Blue Demons to a 92-83 victory.
Strus shot 14-22 from the field, including 6-10 from behind the arc, a perfect 9-9 from the free-throw line, and added 4 rebounds and an assist.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin said of Strus’ performance, “I think he had 36 points in the second half. Our best defender was on the bench. … Justin [Simon] is our best perimeter defender. [Strus] is a heck of a player. He makes tough shots. We got to give him a ton of credit. He made those tough shots and had an incredible second half.”
St. John's did lead this one at halftime, 42-33, but DePaul outscored 59-41 in the second half.
This was DePaul's second win over St. John's this season, as they also won at Carnesecca Arena on January 12, 79-71, when Strus put up a mere 14 points and had 12 rebounds for a double-double.
The loss drops St. John's to 8-9 in Big East Conference play. They are now in fifth place, a half-game behind Georgetown and Xavier (both 8-8) for third, and a half-game ahead of Seton Hall and Creighton (both 7-9). Seton Hall suffered a tough loss at Georgetown Saturday night, 77-71, in double overtime.
St. John's overall record is now 20-10, and they need a win at Xavier in the regular season finale next Saturday and at least one at the Big East Tournament to ensure their place in the NCAA Tournament.
Mullin said of the game, “I think in the first seven, eight minutes of the game, we were phenomenal and then from that point on, DePaul controlled the rest of the game.”
St. John's opened this game on a 20-9 run capped by a Justin Simon layup at the 13:25 mark, and as Mullin said, DePaul responded with an 8-1 run and then eventually pulled within two, 31-29, on a Femi Olujobi layup at 3:31.
St. John's then closed the half on an 11-4 run capped by a Shamorie Ponds three pointer with 32 seconds left, and then a Justin Simon layup with 4 seconds remaining.
In the second half, Ponds hit a layup at 18:44 to make it 47-39, and then DePaul really took over. They went on a 10-3 run to pull within a point, 50-49, on a Strus layup at 14:23. A Strus jumper gave them a 57-55 lead at 11:13.
St. John's hung in there and tied it at 76 on a pair Marvin Clark II free throws with 4:16 remaining.
Strus then took over, as he made a layup, then after Clark turned it over, he drained a jumper to make it 80-76 with 3:26 left. After Mustapha Heron and Olujobi traded free throws, Strus drained a three with 1:51 left, then Heron turned it over, and Jaylen Butz followed with a layup with 58 seconds left to make it 86-77, capping a 10-1 run for DePaul that sealed the win.
DePaul shot an insane 71.4 percent (20-28) from the field in the second half, including 5-9 (55.6 percent) from behind the arc.
In addition to the 43 points from Strus, Olujobi had 23 points on 8-10 from the field, with 10 rebounds to give him a double-double, along with two assists. Butz had 8 points (2-4 FG, 4-4 free throws) and 8 rebounds, including 5 on the offensive end.
Mullin was asked about how the momentum shifted in DePaul’s favor, and he said, “I thought the momentum changed and we got back into the game. I thought it was one of our better starts to a game all year. We just weren’t able to maintain it.”
Mullin said of Olujobi’s play, “He’s a tough post player. I thought Josh [Roberts] battled down there. The shots he makes off the block look good. He made some nice moves off the post. He’s a good player.”
Ponds had one of his best games of the season to lead St. John's with 29 points on 8-15 shooting, including 4-7 on three pointers and 9-for-11 on free throws, with 2 rebounds and an assist.
Clark and LJ Figueroa each had 13 points. Clark shot 4-8 from the field, including 3-5 on threes, with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Figueroa shot 6-11 overall (1-3 threes), with 5 rebounds and an assist.
Heron was back after missing the prior two games, and he had 8 points (3-8 FG, 1-1 threes), with 3 rebounds and an assist.
Mullin said of how Heron played in his return from injury, “He looked okay. He picked up quick fouls. I think he picked up three quick fouls. He didn’t get enough time to get in consistent rhythm, but hopefully he’ll get a couple of days off to heal up and get his rhythm back.”
St. John's has nearly a week off before their season finale at Xavier next Saturday, March 9 at 5 p.m. That game will determine who they face off against at the Big East Tournament starting Wednesday, March 13.