St. John’s already proved its cruise control works just fine at the Garden. Steve Lavin, though, still needed assurance his team could drive right on the road.
While St. John’s (15-9, 7-5) has enjoyed tremendous home victories over top-10 teams Duke and Connecticut, it had not won a road game since Jan. 1 at Providence. In fact, four of those five road losses were by double digits. That’s why yesterday’s 59-57 victory at Cincinnati, although hardly a thing of beauty, was a thing of necessity. It’s another key win that pads the Johnnies’ résumé and keeps them on pace for their first NCAA?tournament appearance since 2002.
“They got second and third efforts from point blank range and the next thing you know we are trailing in a tough environment,” Lavin told reporters. “I’m proud of our team for maintaining their composure and finding a way to win. It was just enough stops and free throws that made the difference today.”
Composure occurred at the foul line, the same place where a 12 of 26 performance cost St. John’s against the Bearcats last month in Queens. This time, the Red Storm withstood an impressive run by hitting 7 of 10 down the stretch, including two by Malik Boothe. The guard capitalized on a lane violation and made the biggest foul shot of the afternoon, putting the Johnnies up for good, 58-57, with 42 seconds left.
“We said we couldn’t lose this game because of free throws again,” said Boothe, who helped St. John’s shoot 62.5 percent from the floor in the first half. “It was huge.”
It was St. John’s fourth win in five games since getting blown out at Georgetown last month. The Red Storm are shooting an impressive 84 percent (80 for 95) from the line in that stretch.