MILWAUKEE (AP) — Dwight Hardy and St. John’s approached this stretch of two games in three days just like the NCAA tournament. The Red Storm appear ready for the bright lights of March’s biggest stage after this dress rehearsal.
Hardy scored 28 points and St. John’s rallied in the second half to beat Marquette 80-68 on Tuesday night, snapping an 11-game losing streak in the series.
“It’s different because it’s Sunday, Tuesday, but the quick turnaround time and having to play two high-level opponents in Cincinnati and Marquette gives you the opportunity to rehearse for NCAA tournament conditions,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said.
The Red Storm (16-9, 8-5 Big East) are playing their best basketball at the right time, completing this three-game stretch with three wins in six days after also beating No. 10 Connecticut on Thursday.
St. John’s D.J. Kennedy scored 15 points, Justin Brownlee added 11 and Justin Burrell added 10 points and 12 rebounds as the Red Storm overcame a seven-point deficit early in the second half.
Jimmy Butler scored 21 points, but the NCAA tournament hopes of Marquette (15-11, 6-7) may be fading because of this 2-5 stretch. The Golden Eagles play three of their final five at home before the Big East tournament.
“I don’t know what it takes to get to the tournament, but I know we’ve got to win games,” Butler said. “We’ve got to get back to winning.”
After a first half that featured 12 lead changes and 11 ties, Butler converted a three-point play, Darius Johnson-Odom hit a 15-footer and Butler found Chris Otule for a dunk to start the second half and give the Golden Eagles a 45-38 lead. But the Red Storm came back to win for the first time in this series since 1966.
Lavin, in his first year with the Red Storm, said he delivered a “fire and brimstone” speech to “put the light under their fanny.”
“I just jumped them in that timeout, ‘This is what will get you beat in the NCAA tournament when you come out lackadaisical against quality teams,”‘ the coach said.
Kennedy’s layup capped a 9-1 spurt that gave St. John’s a 47-46 lead. Butler answered to give Marquette its final lead before Hardy and Kennedy took over for good. Hardy, the Big East’s player of the week who has averaged 27.8 points in his last four games, hit a 3 that gave St. John’s a 56-52 advantage and Kennedy followed with six straight points.
“Dwight is the best pure shooter I’ve coached,” Lavin said. “He’s playing with confidence, it looks like he can drop-kick the ball in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Marquette never came closer than seven the rest of the way and St. John’s didn’t commit a turnover in the second half.
“We’ve been really good lately at putting teams away at the end,” Kennedy said.
Jae Crowder scored 15 points and Johnson-Odom finished with 14, but Marquette may be headed for a lesser postseason tournament despite also faring admirably against a rugged schedule with 9 of its 11 losses against programs ranked in the Top 25.
This victory certainly helped St. John’s in the jumbled Big East. The Red Storm appeared left behind after three straight losses to Louisville, Cincinnati and Georgetown left them 11-8 overall.
But St. John’s has rallied in a big way, winning five of the last six including against then-No. 3 Duke. Next up is No. 4 Pittsburgh on Saturday as the Red Storm continue to thrive playing the second-toughest schedule in the nation at this point of the season.
“We don’t want to take our foot off the pedal,” Hardy said. “That will be a great opportunity for us to get them at the Garden. Everyone knows we play well there. It would be a wonderful opportunity if we can beat them.”
Lavin and his staff again donned white tennis shoes after wearing them in the win over Duke on Jan. 30. He insisted superstition hasn’t played a part in the switch, but there’s certainly no reason to wear wing-tip oxfords anymore.
“It wasn’t the good luck aspect — which people naturally probably assume it is — it was more just without the tie, there’s better breathing, oxygen to the brain for decision making,” Lavin said. “It really is more comfort for the practical aspect and then some solidarity with the staff and the kids to all have the same shoes — being tied together, no pun intended.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)