Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Hardy’s Last-Second Shot Lifts Johnnies Over No. 4 Pitt
NEW YORK – With under four minutes remaining and his team trailing the No. 4 team in the country by 2 points in a tense, tournament-style atmosphere at Madison Square Garden, St. John’s Steve Lavin gathered his players during a timeout.
“This is Madison Square Garden,” Lavin told the Johnnies before his team pulled out a dramatic 60-59 victory over Pittsburgh on a last-second underhanded, flip-in layup by Dwight Hardy. “You’ve got this place electrified. You’re playing with your best friends, and you’re playing at Madison Square Garden. This is fun. It’s about enjoying this moment and playing with passion.”
Lavin, whose team will be ranked Monday for the first time since Nov. 28, 2000, says he’s become more “even-keeled” as he’s gotten older and is “a little more calm” compared with his first coaching tenure at UCLA, which ended with his firing.
“He’s the calmest out of everybody,” senior forward Justin Burrell said. “Just sitting there smiling, telling us we’re going to win. He’s a wonderful coach because he can relate to us. He acts like a kid. He’s talking about what we’re going to do after the game. He doesn’t really coach. I don’t know what he’s doing.”
Lavin’s message proved prophetic, and the game ended in dramatic fashion before 14.514 standing, screaming fans.
With St. John’s (17-9, 9-5 Big East) trailing 59-58 on a 3-pointer from Brooklyn-born Travon Woodall, Lavin called a timeout with 11.3 seconds remaining.
Hardy took the inbounds pass and started his drive near midcourt.
He drove past Gilbert Brown at the top of the key and then curled around Brown again as he cut left and drove the baseline.
Once past Brown a second time, Hardy seemed too close to the basket to get off a shot but then improbably hit an underhanded, flip-in layup with 1.2 seconds left that gave the Johnnies the lead for good.
“I went with my instincts and reversed my shift and went left and I made a tough shot under the basket,” said Hardy, who finished with a team-best 19 points
A freeze-frame of the final play seems to show both of Hardy’s feet touching the line as he took the final shot, but the angle makes it impossible to determine for certain.
“I was initially right under the basket,” he added. “I couldn’t really extend it like I wanted so I just kind of flipped it up there and it just rolled right in.”
Asked if it was the biggest shot of his life, the senior guard said, “I would say so.”
“We basically knew if we got the ball in his hands he was gonna make a play,” said St. John’s senior forward D.J. Kennedy, a Pittsburgh native. “He’s our go-to guy. 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.”
Said Lavin: “That moment was pretty surreal. To see the ball settle into the basket and to look up at the clock and to see the crowd and know we have a chance to beat Pittsburgh, the No. 4 team in the country.”
Pitt (24-3, 12-2) had been a perfect 6-0 on the road this season and had also won back-to-back neutral-site games at the Garden over Maryland and Texas in November.
The Panthers are projected as a No. 1 seed in the upcoming tournament, but on this day Hardy’s shot was the killer.
“The kid just made a tough shot as it rolled in,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Give Hardy credit for making the shot.”
St. John’s won for the sixth time in seven games and has now beaten four Top 10 teams at the Garden: then-No. 9 Notre Dame, then-No. 3 Duke, then-No. 10 UConn and now Pitt.
Despite the string of victories over elite teams and the program’s likely first NCAA tournament bid since 2002, Burrell wasn’t prepared to say the Johnnies are back yet.
“I don’t want to say that, man,” he said. “We just have to go out and play games every day. We haven’t arrived yet.”
Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs, who missed the last three games with an MCL injury to his left knee, came back with a career-high 26 points and was 6 of 9 from the 3-point line, matching Pittsburgh’s total number of 3s in his absence…Gibbs was the only Pitt player in double-figures…St. John’s hosts DePaul Wednesday before visiting Villanova Saturday.
(The AP contributed)
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.