Senior guard Dwight Hardy has been making a name for himself in the month of February and Saturday afternoon was no different. Hardy netted a team-best 19 points, including a game-winning reverse layup with 1.2 seconds remaining to propel the St. John's basketball program over No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers, 60-59, at Madison Square Garden. Pitt becomes the fourth Top 10 team to lose to St. John's at MSG this season. The victory will probably vault the Red Storm (17-9, 9-5 Big East), winners of six of their last seven games, to their first Top 25 ranking since Nov. of 2000.
Hardy, who averaged 27.8 points in the Johnnies last four games, was held to just six points in the first half. However, Hardy scored 13 in the second half and placed the Johnnies, who trailed 56-53 with less than two minutes to play, on his back with less than a minute remaining.
Hardy converted three of four free-throws attempts to help St. John's earn a 58-56 lead with 27.6 seconds to go. After Hardy's final free throw, Pitt answered with sophomore guard Travon Woodall nailing a 3-pointer with 11.3 seconds remaining to take a 59-58 advantage. Then, on the game's final possession, Hardy drove baseline, shimmed his way past the Pitt defender, tip-toed the end line and made an up-and-under layup with 1.3 seconds to play. Pitt's desperation, full-court 3-pointer fell well short and St. John's celebrated.
"He's the Big East Player Of The Year," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin after the game. "It's not even close. It's really a runaway at this point... He's Frank Sinatra tonight"
Hardy placed a lot of the credit on the crowd at MSG.
"I want to thank our fans. They come out every time we play and help support us with all they've got," said Hardy. 'They give us a extra boost of energy tonight," said Hardy. "We just want to come out in the world's most famous arena and play our butts off. We've been doing it so far. We just want to keep it up in the Big East Tournament."
Senior forward Justin Burrell, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, was St. John's most consistent player. Senior guard D.J. Kennedy added 11 points and eight rebounds. The Johnnies second-best scorer, senior forward Justin Brownlee, chipped in six points, but netted a few important second-half buckets -- a 3-ball that tied the score at 33 and then a 2-point jumper which gave St. John's a 41-40 lead with 11:20 to go.
St. John's finished 17-of-40 (42.5 percent) from the field and 3-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc. The Red Storm had 10 first-half turnovers, but just three in the final 20 minutes.
For Pittsburgh, junior guard Ashton Gibbs netted a collegiate-best 26 points, including eight 3-pointers. Pitt shot 21 for 45 on field goals (45.7) and 7 for 18 (38.9) from 3-point land. The Big East's best rebounding team had just 28, the same amount as the Red Storm.
The St. John's basketball schedule features the Red Storm hosting the DePaul Blue Demons Wednesday night (7 p.m.). Next Saturday, St. John's is at the Villanova Wildcats (2 p.m.). The Johnnies will finish regular season play at Seton Hall Pirates, March 3, and hosting the South Florida Bulls, March 5.