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February 19, 2011
St. John's likely locked up at least an at-large NCAA tournament bid Saturday by once again demonstrating why such an invitation might not be necessary.
If the Red Storm keep playing this well at Madison Square Garden, what's going to keep them from claiming the Big East's automatic bid?
Dwight Hardy's off-balance layup with 1.2 seconds left Saturday gave St. John's a 60-59 victory over Big East leader Pittsburgh. The dramatic victory improved the Red Storm to 7-1 this season at Madison Square Garden, the annual home of the Big East tournament.
St. John's (17-9 overall, 9-5 in the Big East) won't be the top seed in the Big East tournament, but the Red Storm's home-court advantage might make them the favorite.
"We just want to come out here - in the most famous arena - and just play our butts off," Hardy told reporters after the game. "We've been doing that so far. We want to keep it up in the Big East tournament."
Pittsburgh joined Duke, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Connecticut on the list of St. John's highly ranked victims at Madison Square Garden this season. St. John's could join all those teams in the national rankings next week and seems well on its way to reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
This is all happening a bit ahead of schedule.
Red Storm, coach Steve Lavin seemed on the verge of making this program relevant again last fall when he signed five of the nation's top 51 recruits (No. 19 Norvel Pelle, No. 41 D'Angelo Harrison, No. 44 Jakarr Sampson, No. 45 Maurice Harkless and No. 51 Amir Garrett). But the Red Storm's emergence has come before any of those heralded prospects arrived on campus. Lavin's first season at St. John's has included some growing pains - most notably inexplicable back-to-back losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham in December - but the Red Storm turned things around once conference play began.
Rather than waiting on next season's freshman class, Lavin has turned things around this season by relying on the experience of a roster that features 10 seniors. The best of those seniors is Hardy, a 6-foot-2 guard from the Bronx who returned home after starting his college career at Indian Hills CC (Iowa). Hardy has scored at least 26 points in four of his past seven games, and he had a team-high 19 points against Pitt (24-3, 12-2).
"In my book, he's the Big East player of the year," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said after the game. "Not even close. Really a runaway at this point."
That's debatable. Connecticut's Kemba Walker, Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough and Georgetown's Austin Freeman have strong cases. Pitt senior guard Ashton Gibbs made his own convincing argument Saturday by scoring a career-high 26 points and shooting 6-of-9 from 3-point range in his return from a knee injury that knocked him out for three games.
But Hardy's game-winning basket Saturday produced a memorable moment. He turned a likely defeat into a victory by displaying the type of move that made him a New York City playground legend. Hardy drove the baseline - replays showed he may have stepped out of bounds - and worked his way past Pitt's Gilbert Brown before sinking an underhanded shot that gave St. John's the dramatic victory. His game-winning shot followed a Travon Woodall 3-pointer that had put Pittsburgh ahead with 11.3 seconds left.
"His Baryshnikov along the baseline a la Fred Astaire was pretty impressive," Lavin said after the game.
Hardy's basket made his team the biggest winner in Saturday's action. Here's a recap of the day's other winners and losers.
Morehead State F/C Kenneth Faried: Faried, a 6-8 senior from Newark, N.J., became the NCAA's leading career rebounder in the modern era while helping Morehead State win 71-65 at Indiana State in a BracketBusters game. Faried pulled down 12 rebounds against Indiana State to give him 1,576; the record formerly was held by Tim Duncan, who had 1,570 rebounds for Wake Forest from 1994-97. The NCAA's modern era includes players who began their careers after 1973.
Nebraska frontcourt: Nebraska's ability to control the paint helped the Huskers deliver a 70-67 shocker over Texas, which had won 11 in a row and hadn't even trailed in a game since Jan. 26. Texas entered the weekend with a plus-7.1 rebound margin, but Nebraska outrebounded the Longhorns 39-34. Nebraska coach Doc Sadler's decision to put Cs Jorge Brian Diaz and Andre Almeida on the floor at the same time paid off. Diaz had 11 points and five rebounds, while Almeida made all five of his shots to provide 10 points - his first game in double figures since Jan. 1 - and five rebounds. "I think they weren't ready for me and Brian on the post," Almeida told reporters afterward. "I don't know the last time we ran that offense. It worked the first time and then it worked the second time, so we kept going with it." Texas F Tristan Thompson has enjoyed a productive freshman season, but he made just one basket and scored only five points against Nebraska.
Arizona F Derrick Williams: The best player in the Pac-10 made arguably the biggest play in the conference this season by blocking Darnell Gant's potential game-winning shot in the closing seconds of Arizona's 87-86 victory over visiting Washington. Williams had 26 points and 11 rebounds as Arizona (23-4 overall, 12-2 in the Pac-10) took a commanding lead in the league standings.
Villanova G Corey Fisher: Villanova was on its way to a stunning loss to DePaul before Fisher hit a game-tying 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation. Fisher, a senior, finished with a career-high 34 points as Villanova went on to edge the Blue Demons 77-75 in overtime.
West Virginia G Darryl "Truck" Bryant and Joe Mazzulla: Bryant and Mazzulla combined for 40 points - more than twice their combined season average - as West Virginia whipped Notre Dame 72-58 to end the Irish's seven-game winning streak. Bryant scored 24 points after entering the game with an average of 10.4 points per game. Mazzulla added 16 to improve upon his season average of 6.4 per game. Bryant was 4-of-7 from 3-point range; he had gone 7-of-36 from beyond the arc in the previous nine games.
Georgia C Jeremy Price: Price, a bulky 6-8 senior, was 8-of-9 from the field and made all four of his free throws to finish with 20 points in a 69-63 upset of host Tennessee. The victory provided a big boost to Georgia's NCAA tournament hopes. Price entered Saturday having shot just 7-of-19 over his past three games.
Kansas State G Jacob Pullen: The senior standout is doing everything possible to make sure Kansas State returns to the NCAA tournament. He followed up his 38-point performance in an 84-68 victory over Kansas by scoring 27 points in a 77-62 win over Oklahoma.
San Diego State F Malcolm Thomas and F Kawhi Leonard: The teammates each had double-doubles as San Diego State avoided looking ahead and beat Air Force 70-58 in its final game before next weekend's rematch with BYU. Thomas had 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Leonard added 18 points and 15 rebounds. They helped San Diego State outrebound Air Force 50-27. San Diego State outscored Air Force 19-2 in second-chance points.
Kansas F/C Markieff Morris' ability to bounce back: Morris, a junior, scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in an 89-63 blowout of Colorado. His big performance came just five days after he had three points and no rebounds in the loss to Kansas State.
Florida State F Bernard James and G Ian Miller: These guys showed how Florida State could survive the absence of star F Chris Singleton, who could miss the rest of the season with a fractured foot. James, a junior transfer from Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, scored 15 points and matched a career-high with eight rebounds in an 84-66 rout of Wake Forest. Miller, a freshman, added a career-high 14 points while scoring in double figures for just the third time all season.
Vanderbilt G John Jenkins: Jenkins, the SEC's scoring leader, continued his recent habit of recovering from slow starts while helping Vanderbilt win 77-60 at Auburn. Jenkins scored 21 points - all in the last 13 1/2 minutes - in a 64-56 victory at Georgia on Wednesday. He missed his first five shots against Auburn but finished with 22 points, including 16 in the second half.
Wright State G Vaughn Duggins: Duggins, a 6-3 senior, scored a career-high 31 points and outplayed Charles Jenkins in a matchup of mid-major backcourt standouts as Wright State breezed to an 82-56 victory over Hofstra in a BracketBuster game. Jenkins scored 18 points for Hofstra, but 12 of his points came from the free-throw line.
Michigan G Tim Hardaway Jr.: The son of five-time NBA all-star Tim Hardaway continued his exceptional freshman season by scoring a career-high 30 points - 22 after halftime - in Michigan's 75-72 overtime triumph at Iowa.
Missouri on the road: A team that feasts at home finally showed it could win on the road Saturday with a 76-70 victory at Iowa State. It was just the Tigers' second true road victory in seven attempts. Missouri hadn't won a road game since beating Oregon 83-80 on Dec. 2, though the Tigers did beat Illinois 75-64 in a Dec. 22 neutral-court game in St. Louis.
Xavier G Tu Holloway: Holloway, a 6-foot junior, had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his second triple-double of the season in Xavier's 79-72 victory over Fordham. Holloway had 14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds Dec. 18 in an 83-75 triumph over Wake Forest.
Utah State F Tai Wesley: Despite playing with a broken nose, Wesley scored 22 points as Utah State erased a nine-point halftime deficit to win 75-65 at Saint Mary's for its long-awaited signature victory. Although the Aggies (25-3) own one of the nation's best records, they hadn't beaten anyone in the top 100 of the RPI before Saturday.
Michigan State G Kalin Lucas: In a game Michigan State absolutely had to win, Lucas scored 25 points to lift the Spartans to a 61-57 victory over Illinois. Even though he made just one of his six 3-point attempts, Lucas still found a way to score nearly half his team's points.
Cincinnati F Yancy Gates: He ended his recent slump by collecting 21 points and eight rebounds in Cincinnati's 93-81 overtime victory at Providence. Gates had scored a total of 13 points in the previous three games for the Bearcats, who needed the win to remain squarely in the NCAA hunt.
Georgetown G Chris Wright: His 26-point performance helped Georgetown escape with a 61-55 victory over USF on a night when teammate Austin Freeman - the Hoyas' leading scorer - mustered just four points while shooting 2-of-10 from the field.
George Mason: The Patriots overcame some sloppy play down the stretch to survive 77-71 at Northern Iowa for their NCAA-leading 13th consecutive victory. George Mason (23-5) began the day 20th in the RPI and should be a safe bet to earn an NCAA bid even if it stumbles in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Brown's free-throw shooting: Brown went 25-of-27 from the free-throw line in a 75-65 victory over Princeton, which suffered its first Ivy League loss of the season. Peter Sullivan made all 16 of his free throws and finished with a game-high 26 points. The loss dropped Princeton (20-5 overall, 8-1 in the Ivy) a half-game behind Harvard (20-4, 9-1) in the Ivy League standings.
Valparaiso G Brandon Wood: Butler's Shelvin Mack made a name for himself during the Bulldogs' Final Four run last season. Cleveland State's Norris Cole became the center of attention last week when he had 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists in a victory over Youngstown State. Wood used the BracketBusters weekend to show the nation there's at least one more outstanding guard in the Horizon League. Wood, a 6-2 junior, had 24 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals in Valparaiso's 80-67 victory over Missouri State.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide (18-8 overall, 10-2 in the SEC) clinched at least a share of the SEC West title with a 69-56 triumph over Arkansas. Alabama is off to its best start in SEC play since it also won 10 of its first 12 conference games in 2001-02.
Potential No. 1 teams: Top-ranked Kansas already lost to Kansas State this week, though the Jayhawks followed that up Saturday with a one-sided win over Colorado. No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Pitt could have staked their claims to the No. 1 ranking Saturday, but both lost. No. 2 Ohio State gets its turn Sunday when it plays at No. 11 Purdue.
Texas F/G Jordan Hamilton's shooting: Hamilton's having the type of season that merits All-America consideration, but he shot just 3-of-19 - including 3-of-13 from 3-point range - at Nebraska. Hamilton still managed to score 18 points by consistently drawing fouls and making nine of his 11 free throws.
Pitt's lack of balance: Pitt showed it had a well-rounded team when it went 3-0 without Gibbs, but the Panthers didn't give their star guard much help Saturday when he returned to the lineup. Gibbs shot 8-of-14 (6-of-9 from 3-point range) and scored 26 points, but the rest of Pitt's team combined for just 33 points and shot 13-of-32 (1-of-9 from 3-point range).
Virginia Tech: Just when the Hokies seemed on the way to locking up an NCAA bid, they put their postseason hopes in serious doubt again by falling 61-54 to Virginia. The Hokies were swept in the season series with Virginia, which entered the day 151st in the RPI. Virginia is 1-8 against the rest of the ACC.
Notre Dame's lack of depth: Notre Dame's reliance on a seven-man rotation didn't cause many problems during the Irish's seven-game winning streak, but a loss to West Virginia showed how a short bench could hurt them in the postseason. Notre Dame didn't get a single point from its bench for the first time all season.
The teammates of Tennessee G Scotty Hopson and F Tobias Harris: Don't blame Hopson or Harris for Tennessee's home loss to Georgia. Hopson, a junior, scored a career-high 32 points and Harris added 18 points. But their teammates combined to shoot 6-of-25 and score 13 points.
Offense in North Carolina-Boston College game: North Carolina beat Boston College 48-46 despite recording its lowest point total in Roy Williams' eight-year coaching tenure. BC didn't score its first points until the game was almost eight minutes old. The Eagles also missed 13 of their first 14 shots in the second half.
Rutgers at the Carrier Dome: Rutgers now is 1-22 all-time at Syracuse, including 15 consecutive losses. The Scarlet Knights came heartbreakingly close to ending that history of futility Saturday before falling 84-80 in overtime. They weren't helped by a massive free-throw disparity. Syracuse went 34-of-47 from the foul line, while Rutgers was 9-of-14.
Washington State: The Cougars seriously damaged their NCAA tournament hopes by falling 71-69 at Arizona State, which had lost nine consecutive games and was playing without injured seniors Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksis.
Missouri Valley Conference: The Valley basically lost any shot at multiple NCAA tournament bids this weekend, as Missouri State lost at Valparaiso one day after Wichita State dropped a heartbreaker at home against VCU. Although Wichita State (22-6) and Missouri State (21-7) own impressive records, neither has beaten anyone in the top 50 of the RPI.
Memphis: The Tigers' NCAA tournament hopes took a hit with a 67-52 loss at Rice, which had lost four of its past five games and entered the night 178th in the RPI. Memphis (20-7) started the night 27th in the RPI, but the Tigers now have a second bad loss to join their 64-58 setback at SMU on Jan. 12. Antonio Barton tallied 14 points, but he was the only Memphis player in double figures as the Tigers recorded their lowest point total of the season.
Baylor: One season after reaching a regional final, the Bears could have a hard time getting back to the NCAA tournament. Baylor (17-9 overall, 5-7 in the Big 12) did itself no favors Saturday by falling 78-69 to a mediocre Texas Tech team. The Red Raiders (12-15, 4-8) had lost four in a row and were playing without injured F Mike Singletary, their top rebounder and second-leading scorer.
Saint Mary's: At the start of the week, Saint Mary's seemed like a lock to reach the NCAA tournament. Then the Gaels lost to dreadful San Diego on Wednesday and blew a nine-point halftime lead and fell to Utah State on Saturday. Saint Mary's (22-6) now will have reason to feel nervous if it doesn't win the West Coast Conference tournament.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.