There were enough things that happened in the final 57.9 seconds of St. John's 65-63 win over Rutgers in the second round of the Big East tournament Wednesday to write a book. That was the point at which the Scarlet Knights overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to take a 61-60 lead on a three-point play by Mike Coburn.
The Red Storm regained a 64-61 advantage with 17.7 seconds to play after Dwight Hardy and Sean Evans each hit a pair of foul shots. It kind of got lost in the confusion at the final buzzer -- more on that later -- but St. John's coach Steve Lavin made a decision that almost came back to bite him. Rather than risk Rutgers hitting a three-pointer to tie, Lavin had his team foul Coburn in the backcourt and send him to the line for two shots with 14.3 seconds left.
Coburn made both to cut St. John's lead to 64-63. Justin Brownlee then inbounded to Hardy, who lost the handle and allowed the ball to go out of bounds and back to Rutgers with 13.4 seconds showing. "The ball just went through my hands," Hardy said. "It hit my shoulder and went out of bounds. I take total blame for that. Brownlee threw an accurate pass. I just didn't catch the pass."
Lavin said he thought of St. John's previous 58-56 win over Rutgers at Carnesecca Arena. "With 30 seconds to go, we tried to get one stop, and they buried a three-pointer on us with eight seconds to go in the game. So, we weren't going to allow them to do that because they'd done it to us once this year. We've actually had other teams that have done that to us, as well, and it probably has cost us. So, I had confidence we would be able to execute offensively and salt the game away.
"One of the strengths of this team is making free throws in late situations. Obviously, it didn't work out as we had planned. That's the beauty of sport."
The, uh, beautful, unpredictable things weren't done happening to St. John's at that point. Rutgers ran a play for Coburn to drive around a screen to the basket, but D.J. Kennedy succeeded in blocking the shot. Brownlee then went to the foul line and missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the Red Storm lucked out when the loose rebound went off Rutgers' Jonathan Mitchell out of bounds. With a reprieve, Kennedy went to the line with 4.9 seconds left, but he only made one of two for a 65-63 lead.
On the inbounds pass to midcourt, St. John's forced a turnover, and Brownlee grabbed the ball. In his excitement, he committed traveling and out of bounds violations that were overlooked by the officials in their rush to get off the court. Big East commissioner John Marinatto admitted the violations in a statement but said the play was not reviewable once everyone left the court.
"It was chaotic," Lavin said. "I heard the horn and felt I had seen a ghost in the Garden. So, I was fortunate that we were going to be able to go to the locker room and get to the next round."
That means a quarterfinal game against No. 11 Syracuse (25-6) Thursday at 2 p.m. and a chance to defeat the only team that has beaten St. John's at Magical Square Garden this season.