The No. 17 St. John’s men’s basketball team defeated Rutgers 65-63 on March 9 to advance to the Quarterfinal round of the 2011 Big East tournament, where they’ll take on fourth-seeded Syracuse tomorrow.
The fifth-seeded Red Storm survived a late comeback by the 13th-seeded Scarlet Knights as a 10-point St. John’s lead nearly evaporated in the game’s final minutes.
“I told the team when you step into the postseason it’s a different animal,” head coach Steve Lavin said. “It’s thinner air and teams are galvanized and playing with a purpose because they have an opportunity to go to the NCAA tournament.”
With a one-point lead and 13 seconds to go, senior guard Dwight Hardy turned the ball over on Rutgers’ end of the floor, setting up the Scarlet Knights for a potential game-winning shot.
More controversy followed later when, with time still left on the clock, senior forward Justin Brownlee tossed the ball into the air, risking a potential technical foul that was not called.
“You know, I’ll have to go back and watch. It was kind of a chaotic, you know, flurry of sequences, so to be honest I was trying to patch it together from the players and coaches in the locker room,” Lavin said.
St. John’s (21-10) did not convert on a field goal attempt for the final 4:06 in the second half. Though Hardy scored a team-high 17 points, he shot just 5-of-17 from the field and had seven points off free throws.
“They switched players on me every time I came off a screen or I was moving around the court, so I think they did a good job of contesting my shots and making me take tough shots,” Hardy said. “It’s a learning experience for me and next game I have to switch it up and find another way to score.”
St. John’s is 8-1 at Madison Square Garden this season, its only loss coming against the Orange back on Jan. 12.
“They got a terrific zone, they’re long, they’re big, and we got to find ways to get the ball in the middle and space them out and for driving lanes and short corner passes to our bigs,” Hardy said. “I mean, we feel that we’ve been playing better against zones down the stretch, so we feel like we can come into the game with a great mind set and be ready to play them.”