When Dwight Hardy, the St. John’s junior guard made the tying and winning shots at the line with second remaining at Madison Square Garden Wednesday evening against Cincinnati there was a message sent to the Big East Conference. Perhaps St. John’s will have more of these games in the month ahead.
“Every time you win at the Garden, it’s awesome,” said St. John’s coach Norm Roberts who saw his team snap a three game losing streak and win 52-50, their first conference game of the season over the 11-6 Bear Cats. “Every time you win a Big East game it’s awesome,” added Roberts.
His team is 11-5 overall, 1-3 and more importantly this was a win that was needed. Because now the Storm will be tested as they get into the thick of the conference schedule. St. John’s also snapped a three game losing streak to the Bearcats dropping two games they played against them last season.
And for Hardy, who matched a career high with 19 points, the win was extra special. He was the impact player from the Bronx who spoiled the homecoming of Bearcat freshman Lance Stephenson, the all-time PSAL scoring leader from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn who won four city championships on the same Garden floor,
Hardy would get fouled in the final moments of a game that saw both teams have their lowest point productions of the season. He went to the free throw line, made both, going a perfect 6-for-6 at the charity stripe. But those final moments, of an otherwise dull contest are what make Big East Basketball contests at the Garden so unique when two New York City players are involved in the outcome.
“We just wanted to spoil his homecoming basically,” said Hardy about his reunion with Stephenson who considered St. John’s but opted for Cincinnati. “They needed a win but we needed it more being that we didn’t have a win in Big East play. So we just wanted to get in his head and keep him from scoring as many points as possible.”
Stephenson struggled, the entire game finishing with seven points and could not get the ball inbounds in the final seconds. Hardy would win the battle forcing two deciding turnovers that got him to the line. “There are a lot of positives except the last 10 seconds,” commented Cincinnati coach Mike Cronin who saw his team fall to 2-3 in the conference.
What Roberts hopes for is more significant play from Hardy. The close conference games like this one would not have been won by the Storm the past few years. “Everybody has a role and Hardy knows his role,” said Roberts adding that his point guard can score and be aggressive.
And more importantly, after losing a tough conference game at home to Providence last week in Queens, this win showed that the Storm may be getting close. “We’re going to have to grind it out to get confident in what we’re doing,” said Roberts, “because we’re really, really close.”
FORDHAM RETURNS TO GARDEN AND ANOTHER LOSS: In the second game of the Garden doubleheader the Fordham University Rams made their first appearance at the arena since 2002. It was not a good return as Fordham lost their eighth straight losing to Dayton 74-58 in an Atlantic 10 Conference game.
It looked promising for the Rams, (2-13, 0-3) in the first half but Dayton went on a 11-0 run in the second half. Brenton Butler led Fordham with 20 points and his 3-point basket with 10:33 left in the game was the last field goal for the Rams.
“I thought the kids played hard again but Dayton was able to constantly bring in fresh players from the bench” said interim head coach Jared Grasso who is 1-9 since replacing Dereck Whittenburg on December 3rd. “I am proud of our effort but we have to be 40 minutes good, not 25 or 30.”
Next for the Rams is another conference tilt at their Rose Hill gym on Saturday against the Rhode Island Rams at 2pm.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]