Rasheem Dunn last played at Madison Square Garden in a high school championship game almost four years ago. And Mike Anderson, in 18 seasons as a Division I coach, somehow had never stalked its sidelines.
They went together to the Mecca on Saturday and neither will ever forget it.
Dunn made a huge steal, drove to the basket to draw a foul and made two free throws with five seconds left as St. John’s took out previously unbeaten West Virginia, 70-68, before 7,281 at the Garden in the newly minted Big East-Big 12 Battle. It is the most impressive win of Anderson’s first season at the helm and runs the Storm win streak to four.
The Red Storm (8-2) led by as much as 10 points in the second half and was still up 68-59 on a Josh Roberts tip-in with 4:28 to play. West Virginia (7-1) scored nine unanswered points while St. John’s went 0-for-6 from the floor; Miles McBride stole a pass from LJ Figueroa and found Sean McNeil for a three-pointer with 1:13 left to tie it.
After Nick Rutherford missed on a drive, Mountaineer Taz Sherman’s miss was rebounded by teammate Derek Culver. He was about to attempt a put-back when Dunn flashed into the paint to make the steal with 24 seconds left.
“He turned his back and coach always talks about digging in, so I just felt the need to dig in and I got the steal,” Dunn said.
In a game in which 41 fouls already had been logged, Anderson called for the Storm to attack the rim in a timeout. Dunn drove the right side, was fouled by Culver and made the two winning free throws. McBride’s drive at the buzzer missed the mark and Storm fans exited roaring.
“That was our toughest point up to this day,” Anderson said. “We rose to the occasion.”
“This is the reason I came here,” said Dunn, who transferred from Cleveland State and missed the first three games before the NCAA granted his legislative relief waiver and made him eligible. “I felt like I could play on the big stage.”
He and former St. John’s star Shamorie Ponds were co-MVPs when Brooklyn’s Jefferson High won the 2016 PSAL championship at the Garden.
Figueroa had all of his game-high 17 points as the teams battled to a 36-36 halftime score. Dunn had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes off the bench, Nick Rutherford had 11 points, Mustapha Heron had nine points and Greg Williams Jr. had a career-high eight points for St. John’s. McNeil’s 13 points led the Mountaineers.
St. John’s overcame adverse circumstances by playing with exceptional grit and passion.
Heron shot just 2-for-12. Six minutes into the second half, Figueroa had four fouls and three other starters had three fouls. And the Storm as a team were 2-for-17 on threes for the game and 1-for-14 from the floor over the final 8:47. But St. John’s turned 22 West Virginia turnovers into 22 points, converted 17 offensive rebounds into 15 more and made 81.5 percent of their free throws (22-for-27). The Storm shot 65 percent on free throws before Saturday.
“They really competed. I think that's the biggest thing they did,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “We didn't. We didn't rise to their level of aggression, We didn’t rise to their level of competitiveness.”
Anderson said: “This game came out of toughness, this came out of grit, this came out of determination and it’s amazing. I think these guys are starting to put it on display. These kind of games focus the mind. There are some games and there are some games and . . . this is the game here. They were locked in and brought the energy.”