PHILADELPHIA -- The whole point of playing in the National Invitation Tournament for Steve Lavin's young St. John's team was to grow through experiencing the postseason for the very first time for everyone on the roster. As life lessons go, the Red Storm's thrilling 63-61 comeback victory over Saint Joseph's Tuesday night on Sir'Dominic Pointer's buzzer-beating jump shot couldn't have been more valuable on many levels.
St. John's (17-15) showed poise in coming back from a 12-point second-half deficit against the Hawks (18-14) in front of 3,148 fans at Hagan Arena. The victory was sweet music to the Red Storm after losing seven of its previous eight games.
But most of all, as Lavin said, the victory was "poetic justice" for Pointer, who got into a fight at Notre Dame that cost him a one-game suspension in the regular-season finale against Marquette. After Saint Joseph's Ronald Roberts hit two foul shots to tie the score at 61 with 5.7 seconds left, it was obvious Pointer wanted the ball and the last shot as the Red Storm eschewed its remaining timeout.
Pointer launched a leaning 17-footer with just over a second left on the shot clock, and it splashed through cleanly for the win. "Dom had a heck of a game," Lavin said of Pointer's 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
"He's our 'Costco' player -- one-stop shopping. He was a ball hawk on defense. It was one of his finest performances. I couldn't be prouder of him coming off the Notre Dame suspension. It was his reward for handling the discipline and responding the right way . . . It was poetic justice."
Pointer said the boxscore wasn't as important as the final score. "It's a great line, but the win is bigger," Pointer said of his stats. "It's the first buzzer-beater of my career. Coach said, 'If you're open, take it.' I hit big shots."
JaKarr Sampson added 16 points, Phil Greene 10, and Chris Obekpa had six points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Saint Joseph's got 21 points from Carl Jones, 16 from Langston Galloway and 10 from Roberts, but the Hawks shot only 30.0 percent in the second half compared with 55.2 percent for St. John's.
The Red Storm fell behind 48-36, but put together a 24-8 run, including nine points from Greene, to take a 60-56 lead. The Hawks made only 1 of 12 shots in that stretch and had three blocked.
"We could have been more aggressive off the dribble," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said.
Lavin was delighted by the resilience his team showed. "When you've lost seven of eight and so many close games, it's easy to get discouraged to the point where you think a loss is inevitable," Lavin said. "Our kids scrapped for a hard-earned win. This is a big moment."
It means St. John's plays Virginia on Monday in the second round.