St. John's uses a 104-point barrage to beat DePaul for its fourth straight win

College basketball

CHICAGO — Six days off didn't change anything for St. John's.

It certainly didn't affect the Johnnies' concentration. It didn't slow them down. If anything, the nearly week-long break made them more active.

Rick Pitino's team picked up right where they left off, crushing cellar-dweller DePaul, 104-77, on Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena to move over .500 in Big East play for the first time since late January.

Naheem Allen hits a big shot for St. John's against DePaul on Tuesday. Courtesy of St. John's Athletics

The 104 points tied the program record in Big East play, tying their production against Providence on February 15, 1999.

“We played good basketball all year, except for a couple games, but it was never this good,” Pitino said.

After losing eight of 10 games to jeopardize its NCAA Tournament chances, St. John's has won four straight games — three by at least 14 points — and will close out the regular season against 10th-ranked Georgetown on Saturday at the Garden.

A fifth-place finish and a first-round bye into the Big East Tournament remain on the table, depending on how Villanova and Providence finish the season.

St. John's and Providence are tied for sixth place, one game on the loss list behind Villanova, which visits fourth-place Seton Hall on Wednesday.

If all three teams finish tied for fifth place, St. John's wins the tiebreaker.

“Obviously we feel like we lost a bunch of games that we could have won early on,” senior forward Chris Leedlum said. “It's great to see how far we've come, and it's really fun and exciting. We've learned from each other and [from] another one. Our chemistry builds. We play great with each other. Is there a better time than March?

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Things have been going right since the Red Storm manhandled Butler for their second straight Quad 1 win last Wednesday.

St. John's' Dennis Jenkins looks to attack the basket against DePaul on Tuesday. Courtesy of St. John's Athletics

Teams they needed to lose, they lost. Teams that needed to win, won.

Suddenly, they found themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to most projections.

But it doesn't matter if St. John's doesn't take care of business against DePaul.

By the end of the first half, there was no need to worry.

The Johnnies finished the half on a 30-6 run, turning a two-point lead into 26 points with a season-high 54 points in the first half.

Ivy League transfers Jordan Dingle and Ledlum led the way with 19 points each.

Chris Ledlum attacks the basket for St. John's on Tuesday night. Courtesy of St. John's Athletics

Simeon Wilsher added 12 points, and Danis Jenkins, RJ Lewis and Naheem Allen each added 11 points for St. John's (18-12, 10-9) – which shot 60.3 percent from the field, made a dozen 3-pointers and dished out 26 assists. On 41 made field goals.

“About 80 percent of the game, we couldn't play better offensively,” Pitino said. “To have 26 assists, six steals and seven steals, we're playing great basketball right now, and you want to see that. The only thing I can tell you is we were focused tonight.”

St. John's leads by just two with 9:05 left in the first half.

DePaul (3-27, 0-19) started hot, making eight of its first 13 shots.

Chico Carter Jr. hit a hat-trick of long 3-pointers. Behind Dingle and Ledlum, the Red Storm went on a furious 25-4 run.

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Ledlum started it off with a robbery and beating. Dingle followed with a jumper and a 3-pointer, then Leadlum sank another 3-pointer. The game quickly got out of control.

“Jordan and Lead are probably the most improved players on our basketball team,” Pitino said.

It got completely ridiculous in the second half. After Wilsher hit three straight 3-pointers, St. John's led by 41 points — yes, 41 — with still 11:10 left to play.

It was an old-fashioned laugh that showed how far this team has come.

Less than two weeks ago, the championship seemed out of reach. Now, the Johnnies seem to be getting better through the game.

With a win over Georgetown, St. John's will have the most wins in the league (11) since winning 12 in 2010-11. Pitino is looking forward to it, and hopes the Red Storm faithful are, too.

“We'll find out a little bit about our fans on Saturday, because we need a big crowd,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “We have to win this game. We'll see how the Johnny family does on Saturday.”

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