PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Dane Miller sent Rutgers into the Big East Conference tournament with a dunk to remember.
Miller grabbed a rebound and scored on a one-handed slam dunk with 11.2 seconds to play to give Rutgers a 61-58 victory over St. John’s in the conference’s final game of the regular season on Saturday night.
The victory gave Rutgers (14-17, 6-12) the 11th seed in the conference tournament and set up a rematch with No. 14 seed Villanova in the first round Tuesday. The Wildcats knocked off the Scarlet Knights 77-71 on Thursday after nearly blowing a 19-point first-half lead.
“Tuesday’s game is important to me because of the way they came out and played the game (Thursday),” said Miller, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “If we play the way we played in the second half the whole game, we can win the game. I know they are not going to make it easy for us, but we really need that win.”
Rutgers had to close the game with a 9-2 spurt in the final 2:14 to beat St. John’s (13-18, 6-12). Miller started the run with a tip-in and got the game-winning basket with a dunk that was highlight reel material.
“Game winner,” Rutgers swingman Mike Poole said of Miller’s dunk. “I wouldn’t care if he laid it up or dunked it, I am just happy he was there to finish it. I’m just happy he was there. He came out of nowhere to save the day.”
A rebound layup by God’sgift Achiuwa with 45.4 seconds to play had given St. John’s a 58-57 lead and Rutgers looked in trouble on its ensuing possession when Eli Carter was forced to the baseline with the shot clock running out. He forced an off-balance shot and Miller was there to ram it home after anticipating the attempt from the left corner would rebound to the right side of the basket.
“The last time I was on (ESPN’s top 10 plays) I was a freshman,” said Miller, now a junior. “I need some love. I don’t care though. It was an opportunity to win the game.”
The loss dropped St. John’s to the No. 12 seed for the conference tournament. The Red Storm will face No. 13 seed Pittsburgh, which ripped St. John’s 89-69 earlier this week.
“First, this was a heck of a game,” St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap said. “For us to come into here off of the Pitt loss and perform the way we did, rock solid. I always keep it simple; it was a matter of our ability to hit free throws. You can talk about this play or that play, but that piece right there is glaring to me.”
D’Angelo Harrison, who led St. John’s with 17 points, had two attempts to tie the game. He missed a go-ahead 3-pointer with about 4 seconds to play.
Eli Carter was fouled after the rebound and made both ends of a 1-and-1 to push the lead to three points.
Harrison’s halfcourt 3-pointer at the buzzer looked good all the way until it bounced off the rim.
Carter led Rutgers with 15 points, Poole added 11 and Myles Mack had 10.
Harrison scored 13 of his 17 points after picking up his fourth foul early in the second half. Amir Garrett had 14 points and nine rebounds and Achiuwa had 12 points and eight rebounds. Moe Harkless, who came into the game averaging 15.5 points, finished with eight points on 6-of-17 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds.
St. John’s killed itself from the free-throw line, hitting 10 of 22. Rutgers was 16 of 21.
A dunk by Achiuwa had given St. John’s a 56-52 lead with 2:40 to go but Miller scored on a tip-in and Mack hit a 3-pointer with 1:16 left to give the Scarlet Knights a 57-56 lead with 1:16 to play.
After Achiuwa scored to put the Red Storm ahead, St. John’s played great defense on the other end only to have Miller make the play of the game.
“It is a fitting moment for Dane, especially the way he finished the last four weeks of the season,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. “The consistency that he showed — when he gives that energy and toughness — we are a much better team. Our younger guys are more confident.”
The first half was ugly on both sides and appropriately ended tied at 25. Neither team led by more than five points in the game and both were woeful from the field.
St. John’s shot 35.3 percent with Harkless and Harrison combining for 5 of 20 from the field. Garrett was the only bright spot, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds. The Red Storm made 1 of 7 free throws.
Carter had 11 points to lead Rutgers, which shot 30 percent from the field. The Scarlet Knights stayed close, hitting 10 of 12 from the line.