Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright (1) is defended by St. John's...

Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright (1) is defended by St. John's guard Dwight Hardy (12), guard Paris Horne, center, and forward Justin Burrell, right, in the second half. (Feb. 13, 2011) Credit: AP

CINCINNATI - Dwight Hardy wouldn't call St. John's 59-57 win over Cincinnati payback - he just called it Big East basketball.

But the Red Storm had to be thinking revenge on the way to its Cincinnati hotel, when Hardy and the rest of the players watched video of Bearcats forward Yancy Gates' game-winning shot in the teams' last matchup.

Though Gates' shot was the final dagger in Cincinnati's two-point victory last month at Carnesecca Arena, 14 missed free throws by St. John's had a lot to do with the loss.

But the Red Storm (15-9, 7-5 Big East) made enough free throws down the stretch Sunday to earn an important road victory and gain ground in the conference standings. St. John's won for the fourth time in its last five games despite blowing a 12-point lead and failing to make a field goal in the final 8:58.

St. John's took a 52-40 lead on a three-pointer by Hardy (18 points) but managed only seven free throws the rest of the way. Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6) took advantage, using a 12-0 run to tie it at 52 with 4:12 left. The Bearcats led 57-56 before St. John's won the game at the free-throw line.

With 41 seconds left, St. John's guard Malik Boothe missed the front end of a one-and-one, but a lane violation by Cincinnati's Rashad Bishop gave him a second chance. He sank both ends of the one-and-one to put the Red Storm up for good at 58-57.

Justin Brownlee (16 points) hit one of two free throws with three seconds left for the final margin before Sean Kilpatrick's heave from just inside midcourt missed at the buzzer.

Both teams came out with a sense of urgency, relying on physical play in the first half. Playing at an almost frantic pace, the teams traded fouls, turnovers and held balls early on.

"It had an awkward rhythm - it was probably an eyesore, ugly to watch," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "I never felt comfortable. I sensed they were going to make a run, and so there was a little bit of angst. It was a must-win, and sometimes that leads to the anxiety and an uptight style of play."

The Bearcats kept up early, hitting 7 of 15 three-pointers in the first half. They finished 11-for-30 for the game. "Our idea was to try and cluster the paint, jam the paint," Lavin said. "We were going to take our chances with them surviving on a steady diet of three-point shots."

St. John's used a 15-0 run to take a 24-14 lead and shot 15-for-24 in the first 20 minutes. The Red Storm went cold late in the second half, but St. John's somehow, some way, pulled out the win.

"Our confidence level is very high right now," Hardy said. "I thought we came out with great energy, but we kind of slacked off and they made their run. On the road, we've got to find a way to get a win, and we did that today."

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