It was a crude kind of artistry that defined St. John's improbable 70-61 comeback victory over Minnesota in an NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal game Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm made only 22 of 37 foul shots, hit just 2 of 13 three-pointers and turned the ball over 18 times.
But the numbers that told the story besides the final score were the 16 steals and whopping 51-39 rebounding advantage the Red Storm (4-0) had against a much bigger Gophers (3-2) team.
It was Sir'Dominic Pointer (eight points, 11 rebounds, five steals), D'Angelo Harrison (19 points, nine rebounds) and Rysheed Jordan (18 points, seven rebounds), sacrificing their bodies, absorbing the bruises and going into all the dirty corners of the court to fight for a win that was emblematic to them of their resolve to fashion a resume worthy of an NCAA Tournament berth.
"It's time for us to grow up," Pointer said. "We've been here four years. In the first half, we played like little kids, gave up open shots. In the second half, we stayed together and came back."
The win allowed the Red Storm to advance to the tournament final Friday night against 10th-ranked Gonzaga (5-0), an 88-76 over Georgia (3-2) in Wednesday night's second semifinal. Kyle Wiltjer scored 32 points to lead Gonzaga.
"It was a big win for us, but we're not done yet," Harrison said. Speaking of the win over Minnesota, he added, "We said all week, this is one of the biggest games of our careers, and in the second half we showed it."
Trailing 40-31 when the second half began, Pointer jump-started the Red Storm with a steal and dunk to ignite an 18-11 run that cut the Gophers' lead to 51-49. At the end of that stretch, Pointer rebounded a missed free throw and dunked to complete a five-point possession that included two technical free throws and one regular free throw. Then, Pointer added another steal and a dunk and then went to the defensive end and blocked a sure layup. "That's me in a nutshell," Pointer said. "I get the team excited and the crowd excited. I'm an all-purpose guy."
That momentum might have led to a second-half blowout, but the Red Storm kept the Gophers in it by missing eight of nine free throws over one stretch. St. John's finally went ahead when Harrison hit two foul shots for a 61-59 lead with 3:28 left to play.
The Red Storm finished the game on a 16-2 run and held the Gophers to 25 percent shooting from the field in the second half, including 0-for-8 from three-point range. "It was clearly a total team victory," coach Steve Lavin said. "They lost themselves to the game, to defense, to the front of the jersey -- 'St. John's.' That's who we have to be if we're going to have a special season."