St. John's 64, DePaul 53

NEW YORK (AP) -- Darryl Hill hasn't been himself this season because of a bad knee. Aaron Spears wasn't around the last four games because of a suspension. They both came up big for St. John's on Wednesday night.

The Red Storm beat DePaul 64-53 in the Big East opener for both teams, snapping the Blue Demons' five-game winning streak by taking advantage of their horrible free throw shooting.

Spears, playing for the first time since serving the suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, scored all six of his points in the final 9 1/2 minutes.

Hill, who has been battling a knee injury all season, looked more like the player who was an all-Big East selection two years ago, scoring nine points, including a 3-pointer from deep in the corner as the shot clock ran out to give the Red Storm (10-4) a 59-52 lead with 45 seconds to play.

"I felt I owed my teammates something so I wanted to play hard and contribute," said Spears, a 6-foot-10 senior who came in averaging 2.8 rebounds. "I felt real good. It felt good being with my team."

Hill, who has missed two games this season because of the sore knee and has become the sixth man, came in averaging 6.5 points per game, well off the 20.7 he averaged as a sophomore. He was 4-for-6 from the field and no shot was bigger than the one 3 he attempted.

"I knew my shot was good all the way," he said of the high-arcing shot that was tipped by DePaul's Sammy Mejia. "I felt we handled the pressure well."

Hill and Spears combined to score 12 straight points for the Red Storm in the second half.

Wilson Chandler had 15 points for the Blue Demons (9-6), who went 4-for-15 from the free throw line in the second half after making nine of 10 in the opening 20 minutes at Madison Square Garden.

"There's not much I can say," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "The quality of shots we had and missed is not indicative of the way we have been playing. It was one of those days, and coupled with what happened at the free throw line in the second half and we were still gasping, hanging in and then that young man Hill hit a big-time H-O-R-S-E shot there. You can get a lot of wins on the playground with a shot like that."

Despite the poor free throw shooting and an off night for Mejia, the Blue Demons' leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, DePaul was within 56-52 with 1:20 left on a basket down low by Chandler.

But Hill hit the 3 to make it a seven-point game and the Red Storm closed it out by making five free throws over the final 33 seconds.

Mejia, who had 40 points in DePaul's win over Northwestern State on Friday, had eight points on 3-for-14 shooting. He was covered for a good part of the game by Anthony Mason Jr.

"We just didn't want him to be able to go one-on-one and create. We didn't want him to get any easy looks," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "We did switch people on him, but Mason's length really helped us on him."

Spears said defense has been a trademark for this team.

"I thought we stayed focused on defense and didn't break down at the end," he said.

Eugene Lawrence had eight points, eight assists and 14 rebounds for St. John's, which has won seven of its last eight games.

"They got really good leadership from Eugene," Wainwright said of Lawrence, a 6-1 junior guard. "He held their team down and I thought he did a really good job of leading."