Justin Brownlee straddled the sideline, stepped out of bounds and chucked the ball into the stands. Acceptable with no time remaining, but with 1.7 seconds left it should have been a technical foul.
“We dodged a bullet,” coach Steve Lavin understated after St. John’s 65-63 escape act against Rutgers in the second round of the Big East tournament. “But they did enough things over the course of the game to dodge the bullet.”
The missed call was so blatant the Big East released a statement, acknowledging that Brownlee traveled and went out of bounds. And since neither error was reviewable, St. John’s was allowed to exhale and joke about it afterward.
“I don’t know what he was thinking,” forward Justin Burrell said. “I don’t know what going through his mind.”
It was not just Brownlee’s unnoticed miscue the Red Storm escaped. Just 12 seconds earlier, Dwight Hardy, who had a rough 5-of-17 shooting day, let Brownlee’s inbound pass slip through his hands and off his shoulder.
“Moving on is all about getting wins,” Hardy said after leading St. John’s with 17 points. “It doesn’t matter how you get them – as long as you get them.”
To advance, St. John’s needed other breaks, and perhaps the biggest one occurred moments before those frantic and chaotic final 20 seconds. That was with 19 left when Sean Evans stepped in the low post and intercepted a pass from Dane Miller.
Then two seconds later, the 55 percent foul shooter was the picture of serenity, shrugging his shoulders before making two free throws that enabled St. John’s to follow the credo of March – survive and move on.
“It was very chaotic, players falling down like bowling pins,” Lavin said. “We’re at the stage where we don’t grade the victories.”
Syracuse has been Grade-A at the Garden, the only team this season to beat St. John's at the world's most famous arena. Today, the Red Storm try to avenge a 76-59 loss to the Orange in January. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone held St. John’s to 37 percent shooting and Hardy to 4-of-15 shooting.
“They’re long, they’re big, we got to find ways to get the ball in the middle and space them out and for driving lanes and short corner passes to our bigs,” Hardy said.
As for the extra help they received so far in the tournament: “Sometimes you need that little something extra,” Lavin said.
And after four years of painful mediocrity for the 10 Red Storm seniors, it’s about time something finally went their way. The fact it arrived in March just makes it sweeter.