If it wasn't clear earlier, two straight road wins in Big East play show St. John's has learned how to win in tough spots under new coach Steve Lavin. Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy combined to lead a second-half surge that carried the Red Storm to an 80-68 victory over Marquette Tuesday night at Milwaukee's Bradley Center.
The Golden Eagles scored the first seven points of the second half to take a 45-38 lead, but then Lavin's full-court pressure defense began to take its toll. St. John's put together an extended 32-12 run to take its largest lead of the game at 70-57 on a layup by Justin Burrell (10 points, 12 rebounds) with 4:42 left to play.
Hardy scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in that stretch, and Kennedy had eight of his 15 points. Justin Brownlee added 11 points and 7 rebounds. Marquette (15-11, 6-7 Big East), which got 23 points and 7 rebounds from Jimmy Butler and 15 points and 9 rebounds from Jae Crowder, never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
The key was a St. John's defense that forced 18 turnovers by the Golden Eagles and totaled 13 steals, including five by Hardy. The Red Storm (16-9, 8-5) took the lead for good at 49-48 on a layup by Malik Boothe with 13:44 left to play. Boothe played an outstanding floor game with six assists and three steals to go with his four points.
St. John's can't seem to get any love in the polls, but it now has won five of its past six games, including wins over then-No. 3 Duke and then No. 9 Connecticut plus this two-game road trip to climb into a fifth-place tie with Villanova in the Big East. Now, the Red Storm faces another major test against No. 4 Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, and one more win assures St. John's of at least a .500 record in the Big East.
With five conference games left to play, a decent showing down the stretch should assure the Red Storm of their first NCAA bid since 2002.