Dec. 21, 2010
NEW YORK (AP) - Sometimes a team just needs a gritty, gut-check win, and that's what St. John's gave head coach Steve Lavin in his first victory at Madison Square Garden as the Red Storm's head coach. STJ overcame a three-point halftime deficit by battling defensively and putting forth a mighty second-period effort on the glass, and the result was a 62-57 victory over Davidson on Monday night in the opening round of the MSG Holiday Festival.
Neither team had a field goal over the final five minutes and both teams combined for three points over that span. Those all came on free throws by Dwight Hardy over the final 16.8 seconds. It was the Red Storm's persistence on the glass - a 21-7 advantage in the second half and a 31-25 margin overall - that may have made the difference.
"I talked to the team about the fact that over the course of a season, there are going to be nights when you play a game that isn't a thing of beauty for the spectators," Lavin said. "But you have to grind it out and find a way to win. These kids' stick-to-it-ive-ness and resolve to find a way to get a victory. That's what impressed me the most."
D.J. Kennedy scored 17 points and nine rebounds and Hardy finished with 12 points for the Red Storm (6-3), who will face Northwestern for the title on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. The Red Storm is looking for its 15th Festival title in 45 appearances at the tournament played at Madison Square Garden. St. John's last title came in 2005.
Northwestern, one of nine unbeaten teams in Division I, beat St. Francis (N.Y.) 92-61 on Monday.
St. John's came in off losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, games when the Red Storm blew 20-point leads.
"Anytime you lose two in a row you have to find a way, any way, to get the `W,'" Kennedy said. "This was a dogfight. We were able to come away with the `W.'"
Neither team led by more than five points in the second half. St. John's took the lead for good at 59-57 on two free throws by Justin Burrell with 5:04 to play. Those were the last points scored until Hardy made one of two free throws with 16.8 seconds left and then added two more with 3.4 seconds left.
Brendan McKillop scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half - all on 3-pointers - for Davidson, which lost to Cornell in the first round of the Festival last year, and Jake Cohen had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Davidson led, 27-24, at halftime and neither team was able to mount any kind of run as they answered every big basket with one of their own.
St. John's led, 59-57, and J.P. Kuhlman missed a 3 for Davidson with 53 seconds to play. Hardy then missed a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left but Justin Brownlee grabbed the offensive rebound and Davidson was forced to foul. Hardy made one of two for the 60-57 lead and Davidson had a chance to tie.
McKillop's 3-point attempt with seven seconds left went around the rim and out and Hardy was fouled, making the two free throws for the final margin.
St. John's finished with a 31-25 advantage on the boards after being outrebounded, 18-10, in the first half.
"We had to clean it up on the boards and Justin Burrell did it on the defensive end and D.J. Kennedy did it on the offensive end," Lavin said. "The board play on both ends is what separated us at the end."
This was the first game this season at Madison Square Garden for the Red Storm.
"The first half maybe we were a little uptight," Lavin said. "The second half wasn't great as far as our offensive rhythm but we played more aggressively. It was a game where neither team could find their offensive flow."