St. John's tried to kick away another game against Cincinnati, going without a field goal for the final 8:58, blowing a 12-point lead and trailing by three with 1:27 to play. But with the help of a hard-nosed play by Malik Boothe and a fortuitous lane violation call that gave him a reprieve at the foul line, the Red Storm pulled a 59-57 victory over the Bearcats out of the fire this afternoon at Fifth Third Arena.
As great as St. John's looked in recent dominating wins over nationally ranked Duke and Connecticut at Madison Square Garden, that's how discombobulated the Red Storm (15-9, 7-5 Big East) looked down the stretch at Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6) as both teams fought to keep their heads above .500 in the Big East standings. It was just over three weeks ago in Queens that the Red Storm lost a two-point decision at home to the Bearcats after a miserable 12-of-26 performance at the foul line.
After taking a 52-40 lead on a Dwight Hardy (18 points) three-pointer with 8:59 to play Sunday afternoon, St. John's again lost control of a game that seemed well in hand. The Red Storm didn't make another field goal the rest of the way, going 0-for-6 from the field with three turnovers. Cincinnati's Rashad Bishop (pictured being guarded by St. John's Malik Stith) scored eight of his 10 points in a 17-2 run that gave the Bearcats a 57-54 lead after a Bishop free throw with 1:27 left. Cincinnati outrebounded St. John's 31-26, including 15 offensive rebounds that often resulted in either second chance baskets or foul shots.
But after Justin Burrell made two foul shots to cut Cincinnati's lead to 57-56, Bishop missed a layup. In the ensuing scramble for the loose ball, the tough 5-9 Boothe came up with it and was fouled by Sean Kilpatrick, who led the Bearcats with 15 points. Boothe went to the foul line with 42 seconds left and missed the first of a one-and-one.
However, Bishop was whistled for a lane violation, and replays showed he clearly stepped into the lane before Boothe's shot. With a second chance, Boothe knocked down both foul shots for a 58-57 lead. Bishop missed a shot at the other end, and Justin Brownlee (16 points, 7 rebounds) came down with the rebound and was fouled.
Brownlee made the first shot for a 59-57 lead with three seconds left but missed the second. Kilpatrick then was forced into a desperation three-pointer from half-court range and missed at the buzzer.
Despite their shooting woes down the stretch, the Red Storm shot 50 percent from the field and was 9 of 12 from the line. They held Cincinnati to 35.8 percent shooting, and the Bearcats' Yancy Gates went scoreless in 13 minutes and was benched by coach Mick Cronin.
The win was the third on the road in Big East play for the Red Storm and moved them into a tie for fifth place with Villanova and West Virginia before heading to Milwaukee to face Marquette (15-9, 6-5) Tuesday night. As important as St. John's four wins over nationally ranked teams -- five, if you count West Virginia, which moved into the top 25 well after losing to SJU -- have been, it was critical for the Red Storm to redeem its previous loss to Cincinnati as both schools fight to stay off the bubble and position themselves for an NCAA bid.