Dwight Hardy and St. John’s may still be unranked, but it’s safe to say they’re no longer underrated, especially at the Garden.
After Hardy’s layup with 1.2 seconds left gave the Red Storm a dramatic 60-59 win over fourth-ranked Pitt, a ranking appears to be imminent for a program nine years removed from their last NCAA tournament appearance.
“It was initially a high pick and roll,” Hardy described the biggest of his 19 points “When I tried to turn back and see Brownlee the defender shifted. I went with my instinct, reversed my shift and made a tough shot under the basket.
“I was initially right under the basket. I couldn’t really extend it like I wanted so I just kind of flipped it up there and it just rolled right in.”
What Hardy described was the biggest shot of his career, which unfolded after he split a defender in the high post. After encountering Travon Woodall, Hardy went baseline and with Gilbert Brown guarding him tightly, the senior underhanded a reverse layup as his heal appeared to touch the baseline concluding an impressive four-minute stretch for the Red Storm (17-9, 9-5), who converted just one field goal in the final six minutes and hung around by making 10 of 12 foul shots.
“He’s our go-to guy,” D.J. Kennedy said. “All year he’s been making plays. I don’t know how he did it but he was able to get it up on the rim.”
“To see the ball settle in the net and look up at the clock and realize we had an opportunity to beat Pittsburgh, the No. 4 team in the country, it was pretty special,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said after he watched his team’s fifth win over a ranked opponent.
Lavin has been saying those things frequently after wins over Duke, UConn, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Marquette. This time, it seems like those words took on extra meaning because he felt “joyless basketball” was being played and his team responded with another big victory.
Lavin told him team that during a timeout with 3:58 remaining and St. John’s down four.
He mentioned how much his team should enjoy having the opportunity to knock off the fourth-ranked team at home and on national television.
When the huddle broke, a newfound spirit seemed to emerge and St. John’s did things like get two key offensive rebounds against the top rebounding team in the nation and force key turnovers at the appropriate instances.
The biggest offensive rebound occurred after Paris Horne grabbed Hardy’s miss. He nearly threw it out of bounds but DJ Kennedy leaped and saved the possession with his right hand like a cornerback making an interception, allowing Hardy to hit two at the line for a two-point lead with 28 seconds remaining.
Those shots appeared to give the Red Storm the win but they did not rotate in time when Brad Wannamaker faked a mid-range jumped and kicked it out to Woodall, who buried a three-pointer with 14 seconds left for Pitt’s first basket since taking a five-point lead with 3:20 remaining.
That set up the final possession and its success was in the hands of Hardy, who also did the same on Jan. 3 against Georgetown. The first instance brought some awareness about St. John’s ability but it did not translate as five losses in six games followed.
This time, the second game-winner by Hardy gave St. John’s a fourth straight victory and sixth in seven games, this one a victory in a battle of wills and grit against the top team in the Big East. It is the kind of stretch that soon might likely be accompanied by a number in the Top 25.
“I can’t wait,” Justin Burrell said after collecting 15 points and eight rebounds. “It’s been four long years without that number. We deserve to see that number.