As St. John's came roaring back from a 12-point deficit at Saint Joseph's on-campus arena, it was evident that the Johnnies were playing for something real.
When Sir`Dominic Pointer's buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper hit the bottom of the net, it finally became real.
"This was purely a collective win, and I spoke with the team about that in the locker room," Steve Lavin said after the game. "To our kids' credit, they kept fighting and had just enough to get over the top. This was a big moment."
St. John's defeated Saint Joseph's of the Atlantic 10 in the NIT first round, 63-61, on Tuesday night after the Hawks led for much of the game.
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"Tonight's win was a total team effort by our young Johnnies," said head coach Steve Lavin. "We had a number of contributors highlighted by Sir'Dominic's performance and clutch buzzer beating basket to complete an impressive comeback win. I'm really proud of our kids' resiliency and resolve in finding a way to get a well-deserved victory. By advancing to the next round of the NIT, our young team will continue to gain valuable postseason experience."
As life lessons go, the Red Storm's thrilling 63-61 comeback victory over Saint Joseph's Tuesday night on Sir`Dominic Pointer's buzzer-beating jump shot couldn't have been more valuable on many levels.
St. John's (17-15) showed poise in coming back from a 12-point second-half deficit against the Hawks (18-14) in front of 3,148 fans at Hagan Arena. The victory was sweet music to the Red Storm after losing seven of its previous eight games.
But most of all, as Lavin said, the victory was "poetic justice" for Pointer, who got into a fight at Notre Dame that cost him a one-game suspension in the regular-season finale against Marquette. After Saint Joseph's Ronald Roberts hit two foul shots to tie the score at 61 with 5.7 seconds left, it was obvious Pointer wanted the ball and the last shot as the Red Storm eschewed its remaining timeout.
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The Red Storm (17-15, 8-10) recovered from a 12-point deficit with 14:32 left in the second half to take a lead with 3:15 remaining toward the end of a 20-5 run. The last minute came down to the wire as Ronald Roberts Jr. hit two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining to tie the game at 61-61.
That’s when Pointer proceeded to take the ball the length of the court before taking an off-balance jump shot before the buzzer sounded.
Coach Steve Lavin has said this game and tournament will serve as a great learning experience for his young team. No one on the Red Storm roster had any postseason experience before last night.
"This is a big moment. We all wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament, but this was the first postseason game for our team," Lavin said. "And now to get a postseason win makes it even more important as we move forward to building this program."
In contrast to the scene of Pointer brawling against the Irish on March 5, he celebrated with his teammates when the game-winner went through the hoop."Coach said if I was open, take it," he said. "I hit big shots. This is the first buzzer (beater) of my career."
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There was plenty of emotion afterward in St. Joe's silent locker room. Jones sat slumped against a wall, a towel draped over his head. He answered questions in whispers.
"We were up 8, 10, 12 in the second half," he said. "You can't blame the coaches. It's on the players."
The Hawks (18-14) were the better team early, leading the athletic but young Red Storm (17-15) by six at the break and by 12 two minutes into the second half.
"We shot 30 percent in the second half. They shot 45 percent," Martelli said. "I liked the quality of our shots, but I'm not sure we were as confident. Their shot blocking got into our heads a little bit and we didn't finish enough plays in and around the rim."
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The Hawks came out playing well for the first nine minutes of the second half and took and 11 point lead over St. John’s when Galloway knocked down his fourth three of the evening. Shortly after, however, things began to unravel for SJU.
"We were trying not to lose on some possessions later in the game instead of trying to win and playing free and easy," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "I had put that on the board at halftime. Be a little more fierce. The way we were guarding them wouldn’t lead you to be fierce."
"I think that there was some decision making that was a little off," Martelli said. "We knew we couldn’t get to the rim here…Again, we are walking out of here with a loss having held a team to 63 points. It’s college basketball you have to score the ball."