March 18, 2011
DENVER (AP) - Playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 and for the 27th time in school-history, sixth-seeded St. John's was ousted in its opening game of play in the Southeast Region as No. 11 Gonzaga shot 53.8 percent (28-of-52) from the field en route to an 86-71 victory.
Dwight Hardy posted his 15th 20-point game of the season with a game-high 26 points to lead St. John's (21-12), which earned an at-large bid into the Big Dance after compiling a resume that included wins against six Top 25 teams, including four Top 10 teams, a return to the rankings for the first time since 2000-01 and winning 20 games for the first time since 2002-03.
Justin Brownlee added 14 points, Dwayne Polee II contributed 12 and Paris Horne finished with 11 points as the Red Storm lost for just the second time (9-2) this season when four players were in double-figures.
"I said to the kids right after the game that while losing is heartbreaking and losing in the NCAA tournament is heartbreaking, when they get out a month, two, three months, a year, five years from now, they're going to look back and realize that they brought St. John's basketball back," said head coach Steve Lavin. "I really wanted the team, the players, to be aware that while it doesn't take the sting away from this loss, they set the bar high for anyone that follows. This young group coming in next year will be the youngest team in the country, the youngest team in St. John's history. They have lofty standards now to live up to because of this group of 10 seniors that put the foundation in the place for the future of our program and gave our coaching staff the ride of a lifetime."
It was a rare early round loss for Lavin, who is now 10-2 in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but the Red Storm was not the same team without top rebounder and team leader D.J. Kennedy, who tore his right ACL in the BIG EAST Tournament. Kennedy sat on the bench in his warmups, even lacing his shoes, hoping maybe he could somehow will his way into the game.
Instead, Kennedy hopped up off the bench on occasion - as best he could, anyway - to try to spark his teammates. The fans who made the trek from the Big Apple showed their support for the senior swingman, wearing red "Do It For D.J." t-shirts.
Marquise Carter scored a team-high 24 points for Gonzaga (25-9), which has won 10-straight games and will advance to face third-seeded BYU. Steven Gray had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Elias Harris added 15 points and eight rebounds. Robert Sacre contributed nine points and nine rebounds as the Bulldogs grabbed a +23 (43-20) advantage on the boards.
Trailing by 11 at the break, an early steal set up a Polee jumper and a free throw that quickly made it an eight-point game, 43-35, less than 30 seconds into the half.
Gonzaga, which shot 60.0 percent (9-of-15) from beyond the arc in the game, answered, however, with three-straight 3s to jump out to a 52-38 lead with 17:26 remaining.
A Brownlee trey and a Polee slam cut the deficit to 10, 60-50, with 12:32 remaining, but St. John's would never get any closer as Gonzaga followed with a 10-2 run to open up its largest lead of the game, 70-52, with 7:22 remaining in regulation.
Though Gonzaga was making its 13th-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, it was St. John's that jumped out of the gate after winning the opening tip. Brownlee made a 3 for the game's first basket and the Red Storm made its first three field goals to take an 8-2 lead less than two minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs answered, however, with a 13-6 run that included three 3-pointers to take a 15-14 lead, its first of the game and one it would not relinquish, at the 15:14 mark.
High percentage shots and good passing helped Gonzaga build a 15-point lead, 38-23, with 2:59 left in half, but a Horne 3-pointer, a pair of Hardy layups and a Brownlee jumper at the buzzer gave the Red Storm momentum and cut the deficit to 43-32 at halftime.