NEW YORK — Dwight Hardy knew how much St. John’s needed a win. He and his teammates had another thought on their minds as well — ruin Lance Stephenson’s homecoming.
Hardy matched his career high with 19 points, including the tying and winning free throws in the final 8.5 seconds, and the Red Storm snapped a three-game losing streak with a 52-50 victory over Cincinnati and its heralded freshman on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“We just wanted to spoil his homecoming basically,” Hardy said. “They needed a win but we needed it more being that we didn’t have a win in Big East play. So we just wanted to get in his head and keep him from scoring as many points as possible.”
Stephenson struggled all game but it did seem he and the Bearcats were going to be on the right end of the final score but they couldn’t get the ball inbounds in the final 10 seconds and Hardy turned the two turnovers into the deciding free throws.
“Our guys really stayed tough at the end of the game and made some huge plays,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “Hardy stepped in there and made some plays.”
Hardy stole a long inbounds pass by Rashad Bishop, was fouled with 8.5 seconds left and made both free throws to tie the game at 50.
He then stole another inbounds pass by Bishop — this one at the free throw line — and was fouled as he went to shoot with 7.6 seconds left. Hardy made both free throws and Deonta Vaughn’s 3 for the win with a second left bounced off the rim.
Hardy finished 6 of 6 at the free throw line, while the Red Storm (11-5, 1/3 Big East) were 11 of 20. Hardy came into the game shooting 71 percent at the line.
“What we have to do, in the last 10 seconds, is not blow the game,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “They are a good team, they have good players and are in a must-win situation. We met the challenge and had the game won. I am not going to act like the sky is falling. We had the game won. There are a lot of positives except the last 10 seconds.”
Yancy Gates had 12 points to lead the Bearcats (11-6, 2-3), while Stephenson had seven points on 3-of-9 shooting, five assists and six of Cincinnati’s season-high 21 turnovers.
Stephenson, New York’s all-time leading high school scorer with 2,946 points at Lincoln H.S., was booed by the St. John’s fans in the crowd every time he touched the ball.
“I don’t worry about the crowd. I just play the game,” Stephenson said. “You can’t worry about the crowd, what they say or do.”
The Bearcats entered the game last in the 16-team Big East in 3-point shooting at 29.4 percent and they missed all 12 shots they took behind the arc on Wednesday.
Stephenson lost for the first time at Madison Square Garden after winning four New York City championship games here. The Red Storm have played a lot more games than that here.
“Every time you win at the Garden, it’s awesome. Every time you win a Big East game, it’s awesome. Because it’s hard, very hard,” Roberts said. “I keep telling my team that we’re going to have to grind out a win. … Because we’re really, really close. So I’m really happy that we were able to get the victory today.”
Courtesy of the Associated Press