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DePaul’s rally falls short in loss to St. John’s

St. John's JaKarr Samps(14) hits floor fighting for ball with DePaul's Donnavan Kirk (23) ClevelMelv(12) during first half Allstate ArenRosemont

St. John's JaKarr Sampson (14) hits the floor fighting for the ball with DePaul's Donnavan Kirk (23) and Cleveland Melvin (12) during the first half at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., on Saturday, January 19, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:54AM

St. John’s coach Steve Lavin called the Red Storm’s 71-62 victory Saturday against DePaul ‘‘a great learning experience’’ for his young team, which hung on after its 17-point lead was cut to three.

But it was one more difficult lesson for the Blue Demons (10-8, 1-4 Big East), who lost their third in a row and fifth in the last six games.

‘‘Everybody wants a lead at the beginning of the game, but it didn’t go that way today,’’ said sophomore Jamee Crockett, who led the Demons with 19 points and had four offensive rebounds, three assists and four steals.

The Red Storm (11-7, 3-3) built its 17-point lead with 7:37 left on a succession of turnovers and missed shots by DePaul.

‘‘Our turnovers really hurt throughout the game, but especially in that stretch,’’ coach Oliver Purnell said.

St. John’s scored 24 points off 18 turnovers and another 16 fast-break points in transition.

‘‘The other glaring area is our three-point shooting,’’ Purnell said after the Demons went 5-for-25 from three-point range and shot 34.7 percent from the field (25-for-72). ‘‘We took far too many and didn’t hit enough.’’

Crockett made two of them, but his greatest contribution was attacking the rim in the first half. The Crete-Monee product electrified the Allstate Arena crowd of 7,785 with back-to-back slams with less than three minutes left in the first half, giving the Blue Demons one of only two leads at 33-31.

‘‘You want him to get to the rim, hit layups and slash and get to the offensive glass,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘That’s what we want to see from him.’’

But junior forward Cleveland Melvin was the only other Demon in double figures (16 points, eight rebounds). Junior guard Brandon Young had 10 rebounds but only six points and seven turnovers to three assists.

The Red Storm had four players in double figures, led by a career-high 18 points from sophomore guard Jamal Branch, who’s averaging only 7.8 points.

Sophomore Sir’Dominic Pointer had a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison added 15 points and freshman JaKarr Sampson had 10 points.

‘‘As a coach, you’re pleased when your team finds a way to close out a Big East game, especially on the road,’’ said Lavin, whose team also held on after losing a 14-point lead to upset No. 20 Notre Dame 67-63 on Tuesday.

DePaul got as close as 65-62 with 2:26 left when junior Moses Morgan made a three-pointer, but the Red Storm made six of nine free throws at the end.

‘‘DePaul is a feisty team that has a system, and they stay with it,’’ Lavin said. ‘‘That’s why there’s a razor-thin margin in this Big East. We still have a long way to go.’’

That remains true for DePaul, which has only six victories in its last 71 conference games.

The Demons have lost two of their last four Big East games by five points or fewer.

‘‘It can be discouraging, but you have to push through it,’’ Purnell said.

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