NEW YORK — Steve Lavin and his players awoke Sunday morning to the daily update from ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
And it went like this: St. John’s is currently among the First 4 Out of the 68-team NCAA Tournament field.
St. John’s, like a lot of bubble teams at this point, has only one option to keep its dancing dreams alive: Keep on winning.
They did what they were supposed to do Sunday afternoon, beating DePaul, 72-64, at Madison Square Garden behind D’Angelo Harrison’s 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Sir’Dominic Pointer had 14 points and five boards, Orlando Sanchez added 13 points and seven rebounds and Chris Obekpa grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I don’t turn on SportsCenter, none of that,” Harrison said of Lunardi’s bracket. “I watch NBA TV.”
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Johnnies and came without freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan, who sat on the bench in street clothes following the death of his aunt and another close relative last week.
Lavin called this past week “the most unusual that I’ve experienced in my career,” adding that five “loved ones” of players died in the past few days.
“Equally challenging and tragic and just unfortunate, we had five loved ones lost in a 24- or 36-hour period,” Lavin said.
St. John’s spokesman Mark Fratto confirmed that in addition to the two loved ones Jordan lost, two of Pointer’s relatives died in a violent incident in Detroit and that Sanchez’s mentor died of cancer.
Also during this past week, Sanchez became the father of a daughter, mixing in a blessing with the tragedies.
On the court, the team was somehow able to focus enough to win.
After leading by 20 points in the second half, things got a little dicey when DePaul cut it to 57-54 on a 3-pointer by R. J. Curington with about four minutes remaining.
But the Johnnies answered with a 7-2 spurt — highlighted by a one-handed transition dunk from Phil Greene IV — to extend the lead to 63-56, and St. John’s made their free throws down the stretch.
St. John’s improved to 19-11, 9-8 in the Big East and with a win on Saturday at Marquette will notch their 20th win of the season and insure that they finish above .500 in the Big East.
Lavin’s club will have a week off before that game, while Marquette played at Villanova later Sunday and visits Providence Tuesday before the matchup with the Red Storm.
“We won this one, kudos to us but we gotta get ready for the next one,” Harrison said. “Marquette is going to be a big game for us, probably the biggest game of the year. We gotta flush this one and get ready for the next one.”
Lavin said he expects the team to be “at full strength” this week during practice in anticipation — with Jordan coming back.
The Big East Tournament begins March 12, and at this point the Johnnies are the No. 6 seed and would open play on Thursday against No. 3 Xavier.
Should they win that game, they would likely get either Villanova or Creighton in the semifinals.
“They certainly have to be a dark horse in the Big East Tournament because it’s in Madison Square Garden,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said.
For now, the Johnnies did what they were supposed to do despite the tragedies and distractions.
They survived and advanced.