In recent years, a certain team would have fallen to pieces down the stretch after yielding a 16-1 run and finishing the game’s last nine minutes without a field goal. This is a different team; and in a town once full of losers, this new-look squad is pulling out of it to win.
Despite not making a shot from the field since Dwight Hardy’s three-pointer with 8:59 remaining in regulation put St. John’s up 52-40, the Red Storm (15-9, 7-5 in the Big East) outlasted a scrappy Cincinnati team (19-6, 6-6) that made the Johnnies earn every last free throw that proved critical in the waning moments en route to a 59-57 Red Storm win on the road at Fifth Third Arena. Although he didn’t post a third consecutive 30-point game, Dwight Hardy paced the boys from Queens with 18 points; while Justin Brownlee added 16, perhaps none bigger than the game-winning free throw with 3.5 seconds remaining in regulation that provided the final margin for a team that has a very good chance to make its long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament barring a meltdown.
St. John’s shot 50 percent from the field (23-for-46) and 75 percent (9-for-12) from the foul line in the winning effort today, stark contrasts from the lackluster shooting effort from the field and 46 percent (12-f0r-26) showing from the charity stripe the first time these two teams met on January 22nd at Carnesecca Arena, a matchup the Bearcats won 53-51 behind Yancy Gates‘ (held scoreless today) game-winning jumper. Brownlee, whose attempt to tie the game last month was unsuccessful against Cincinnati, was the offensive catalyst today with a 7-for-9 shooting effort. For the Bearcats, their willingness to live and die by the outside shot in the early going proved critical throughout, as they were only able to get into an effective rhythm from beyond the arc. Of their 19 field goals, 11 were trifectas. Sixth man Sean Kilpatrick led the way for the Bearcats with 15 points off the bench, while Dion Dixon (12 points) and Rashad Bishop (10) were the only other players in double figures for coach Mick Cronin, whose NCAA Tournament status is now shakier than it was going into today’s game. Cincinnati has quality wins over Dayton and Xavier, but has a soft schedule when compared to their Big East counterparts; as well as losses to bubble teams the likes of West Virginia and this St. John’s team, not to mention a close call against DePaul.
Next up for St. John’s will be Marquette on the road Tuesday night, as the Johnnies look to bolster an already impressive resume with yet another quality Big East win. The next game on the ledger, as well as some happenings from today’s matinee will be the focus of the latest lasting impressions as the Red Storm head into the Bradley Center.
- St. John’s looks to end a long losing streak to Marquette when the two teams lock horns Tuesday night. Despite losing each of their last two matchups against the Golden Eagles by just two points, St. John’s has not emerged victorious against Marquette since February 26, 1966. Just to put the length of that drought into perspective, coach Steve Lavin was just 17 months old the last time St. John’s defeated the Golden Eagles, while Marquette head man Buzz Williams wasn’t even born yet.
- Very rarely do you see a team win a game without making a field goal over the final nine minutes, but credit the matchup zone of St. John’s and its eventual transition into a man-to-man package for stifling Cincinnati down the stretch. At various points in the second half, the Bearcats were clearly uncomfortable on the offensive end; and struggled to find a confident look from the field.
- Malik Boothe, whose two free throws gave St. John’s the lead for good after Cincinnati came back to take a four-point advantage, may have had deja vu in his mind when he was at the line. For those who don’t remember, Boothe calmly drained two free throws against West Virginia in his freshman season (2007-08) in the last game of the year at Madison Square Garden that gave the Johnnies the lead before Joe Mazzulla sent it into overtime with his uncontested coast-to-coast layup.
- With the win today, St. John’s moves into a tie for fifth in the Big East at 7-5 in conference, joining Villanova after the Wildcats’ heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh last night at the Pavilion. With the Johnnies going to Villanova on February 26th, this win looms just as large as the impending head-to-head matchup that will have a profound effect on conference tiebreakers that will ultimately determine Big East tournament seeding.
- Finally, regarding the chances for the Red Storm to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002: Assuming St. John’s can split their remaining six games, (at Marquette, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. DePaul, at Villanova, at Seton Hall, vs. South Florida) they will end the regular season 18-12 with a 10-8 mark inside the Big East. Given their Top 20 RPI and the strongest schedule in the country, it’s not a lock that the Storm will be dancing, but the outlook has not been this bright in a long time.