St. John's and Cincinnati engaged in a slow-grinding struggle Wednesday night, only to have the contest come down to the final 8.5 seconds of regulation. It was the ice water in the veins of junior off-guard Dwight Hardy at the charity stripe that, ultimately, routed the Bearcats (11-6, 2-3) 52-50. With the victory, the Johnnies (11-5, 1-3) snapped a three-game conference losing streak, notching its first win in the BIG EAST this season.
"Our guys really stayed tough at the end of the game," said St. John's head coach Norm Roberts. "The whole team stayed strong so I'm really happy for our guys."
The squads tied the game seven times in the second half alone, with the last tie occurring only moments before the final buzzer. After seeing a three-point deficit twice down the stretch (the latter following a tough basket by Cincinnati's sophomore forward Yancy Gates with 1:28 remaining), St. John's locked in and played one of its best late-game strategies this season.
"We just kept telling them, just make a play, we can get a stop here, this is how we're going to set up our press, don't foul them and the guys executed very well," said Roberts. "They just all listened."
Junior guard Paris Horne blocked an attempted shot by Cincinnati's sophomore guard Dion Dixon, which ended up in the hands of junior forward Justin Brownlee. Dixon trying to recover, fouled Brownlee with 14.5 seconds on the clock. Brownlee only hit one-of-two, but made the contest a two-point game, 50-48.
The Johnnies put on the pressure and, with 10 seconds remaining, Hardy stole the ball from junior forward Rashad Bishop. On a fastbreak drive to the cylinder, Bishop fouled Hardy with 8.5 seconds left in regulation and sent him to the charity stripe for the Johnnies' 17th and 18th free throw opportunity of the game. Hardy calmly nailed both at the charity stripe and tied the game 50-50, despite a timeout by Cincinnati to talk over team strategy and to ice the shooter after the first made free throw.
"I just tried to play basketball, don't worry about nothing else," said Hardy, "just play my game, play within the team, just do what we regularly do every day in practice and every game."
On the next Bearcat possession, Hardy intercepted the inbounds pass by freshman guard Lance Stephenson and was fouled by Dixon while attempting a jumper. Hardy was sent to the line for the second time within nine-tenths of a second. And, with 7.6 seconds remaining, Hardy stroked a pair to give the Johnnies a two-point advantage, 52-50.
"From my vision, [Stephenson] was about to get a line violation, so he just tried to throw it in quickly," said Hardy. "But, I read the pass and I was able to get in front of it. I knew that his teammate was diving, so when I caught the ball, I had to stay in front of him so I could draw contact and get the foul."
Cincinnati's senior point guard Deonta Vaughn attempted to answer with a three-pointer from the top of the key, but missed the mark. The Johnnies chased down the rebound and Hardy came up with it, as the final moments ticked away and sealed this one into the record books.
St. John's may not have had its best stat numbers, finishing only 34.6-percent (18-for-52) from the field, but the squad played smart when it was important down the stretch.
Hardy finished with a game-high 19 points, including a 5-for-11 performance from the field, a 3-for-5 display from the perimeter and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. The team also saw some contributions from junior swingman D.J. Kennedy (nine points, four rebounds) and Brownlee (eight points, six rebounds).
Gates led the Bearcats' 41.7-percent (20-for-48) shooting with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Cincinnati led St. John's 24-23 at the half.
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