The first real postseason play of the Norm Roberts era at St. John's lasted exactly one game. A buzzer-beating layup by Wesley Weatherspoon gave Memphis a 73-71 victory over the visiting Red Storm in an NIT first-round game Wednesday night.
The Tigers (24-9) had five players score in double figures led by Weatherspoon's 18 points. Elliot Williams added 14; Doneal Mack had 12; Will Coleman scored 10 and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Angel Garcia tossed in 10 points.
St. John's (17-16) got 18 points, six rebounds and four assists from D.J. Kennedy, and senior Anthony Mason Jr., whose mother lives in Memphis, totaled 17 points. Justin Brownlee had 11, and point guard Malik Boothe had 10 points and seven assists.
The Red Storm fell behind at halftime, 44-35, but fought back to lead by a point twice in the second half. The last time was a 67-66 when Kennedy hit a pair of foul shots with 1:08 to play. With 17 seconds left, Mason hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 71, but then Weatherspoon drove the left side of the lane and put a layup high off the glass over Mason and watched it fall through for the win.
Now, the question is what happens next for Roberts? Two fellow Big East coaches in the metropolitan area learned of their fate earlier Wednesday. Seton Hall canned Bobby Gonzalez because it was unhappy with the way he represented the program and with the actions of some of his players, one of whom was arrested on a kidnapping charge Tuesday. On the other hand, Rutgers gave coach Fred Hill another year, in part, because it would have been too expensive to buy out the remaining $1.8 million on his contract.
Roberts falls somewhere in between. His conduct has been exemplary, and he has cleaned up the abuses that riddled the program before his arrival. But his record now is 81-101, and this NIT bid was the first legitimate postseason berth in his six seasons. Roberts reportedly makes around $650,000, and his contract rolls over each year five years into the future. If the school decided to fire Roberts, he would receive a buyout.
The decision should be made in the next few days by athletic director Chris Monasch and Rev. Donald Harrington, president of the university. When the Big East tournament ended last week, Roberts was thought to be on the way out, but lately, there have been indications Harrington might pull back and give him more time to produce a winner. Finances could play a role in the decision as they did with Hill at Rutgers, but there also might be strong pressure from Alumni groups to go a different direction.