NEW YORK -- Some quick thoughts on St. John's 77-52 win over Butler on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
What it means: St. John's is one step closer to securing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Red Storm took care of business Tuesday, in a game they simply had to have. It wasn't pretty early (see below), but they eventually put down the Bulldogs for their sixth straight win and ninth in their past 10 games.
St. John's improved to 18-9 overall, 8-6 in the Big East. Butler fell to 12-14 overall, 2-12 in the conference.
The turning point: It was a tight first half -- neither team led by more than five. St. John's went in front 20-15 on a Jakarr Sampson layup with 6:14 remaining, but Butler scored eight straight points after that. Khyle Marshall's follow-up slam at the buzzer gave the Bulldogs a 33-30 lead at intermission. Marshall had 16 points and seven rebounds in the first half alone, while St. John's shot just 11-for-30 (36.7 percent) from the field.
The second half looked like a totally different game. St. John's opened on a 14-2 run, capped off by an Orlando Sanchez 3-point play to take a 44-35 lead. Butler was still within seven, 50-43, after a Kellen Dunham jumper with 12:05 remaining. But then the Red Storm erupted, scoring 20 straight points -- the first three on a trey by Jamal Branch, and the last two on a layup by Sir'Dominic Pointer -- to make it 70-43 with 3:43 left. Game over.
Star watch: Sampson finished with a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds. Branch, who returned after missing two games due to oral surgery, added 10 points and five assists off the bench.
Starting center Chris Obekpa did not play. St. John's announced two hours before tipoff that Obekpa suffered a sprained right ankle and bone bruise in practice Monday, and is expected to be sidelined for 10-14 days.
Marshall led Butler with 16 points, but he went scoreless in the second half.
Number crunch: Butler shot just 4-for-22 from beyond the arc (18.2 percent) and 10-for-21 from the foul line (47.6 percent). Ouch.
What's next: St. John's plays No. 9 Villanova on Saturday in Philadelphia. Butler hosts Providence on Saturday.