A runner from Dwight Hardy underneath with 1.2 seconds put a spectacular finish to a game that was back-and-forth all game, as St. John's defeated No. 4 Pitt 60-59.
The win adds the most significant argument in the case of St. John's being an NCAA Tournament team, as the Red Storm also have wins over Duke, Georgetown and UConn earlier this season. Of those four impressive wins, Pitt came the closest with Saturday's one-point loss.
Ashton Gibbs returned to the lineup for Pitt. He did not start, but he did finish with a game-high 26 points for the Panthers, including six three-pointers. He did not get much help elsewhere. Gary McGhee was next in line, as he finished with seven points. Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown were held scoreless in the first half; Wanamaker finishing just 2-of-7 from the field, and Brown just 1-of-5.
Despite this game being a one-point loss, Pitt turned the ball over 16 times and shot just 10-of-18 from the free throw line, the two factors that did him in most. Pitt got in foul trouble, as McGhee and Nasir Robinson both picked up four fouls. Though McGhee has fouled out just once this year, his four fouls mark the fourth game out of the last six where he's picked up at least four fouls.
St. John's dominated the first half. The Red Storm took advantage of seven Pitt turnovers, including six points off those Pitt turnovers, leading by as many as nine in the first half. Pitt struck first with as McGhee tipped in a miss by Wanamaker, giving the Panthers the first lead of the game 2-0. St. John's answered with a 7-0 run, building a quick 10-3 lead behind three-pointers from Hardy and Kennedy. Jamie Dixon called a timeout after Hardy added another two—the second St. John's field goal off a Pitt turnover—as the Red Storm had that 10-3 lead, just three and a half minutes in.
Pitt cut it to 10-7, but the Red Storm continued to shoot the ball well, and they attacked the lane. Burrell twice powered through McGhee and Dante Taylor for inside shots. He also came up big on the defensive side, blocking a shot attempt by Brown in the lane.
Gibbs did not start the game, but came in at the 15:00 mark of the first half. Though he missed his first shot of the game, his first three-pointer—also Pitt's first three-pointer of the game—brought the Panthers to within 15-10 with 10:30 left in the first half.
St. John's went up by nine, 19-10, after another two from Burrell who continued to have his way in the paint. Dixon called another timeout. Pitt got a jumper from Gibbs on the wing, to bring the Panthers to within seven, but they wouldn't get closer to St. John's until the end of the half.
Both head coaches were called for technical fouls in the first half. Dixon got his with five minutes left in the first half. Hardy converted both free throws to put St. John's up 24-17.
The final minute of the first half had a few bizarre moments, but it resulted in Pitt talking a 27-26 halftime lead, despite being outplayed for much of the first half. After Gibbs' third three-pointer of the game made it a 26-23 game, St. John's head coach Steve Lavin was called for a technical foul. Gibbs tacked on a pair of free throws, as Pitt now trailed by just one. With the ball, it was Kennedy called for a personal foul. Kennedy then had a technical foul tacked on after his reaction on the play. It was Gibbs going to the line again, putting Pitt up 27-26 at the half with his two free throws.
Both teams played a little out of control to start the half, also trading the lead a couple times. The theme of the second half, and eventually the way the game ended, is just as one team seemed like they had a hold on the game, the other came back. Gibbs hit his fourth three-pointer to put Pitt up 31-30. Wanamaker added his first points of the game on a drive—a shot attempt that was called for goaltending, yet it counted as his first bucket of the game. Showing how much these teams resemble each other, it was Justin Brownlee who answered for St. John's with a three-pointer—his first field goal of the game.
Pitt took a five-point lead, 40-35, thanks to Gibbs' fifth three-pointer of the game. Even though it looked like Pitt was adding on the momentum, and maybe trying to finish the game out, St. John's wasn't done yet. The Red Storm went on a 8-0 run to gain the lead back, 43-40. Pitt was held without a point for over four minutes, before Brown took a bounce pass from Woodall, which went between two defenders and into Brown's hands for the layup as the halfway point of the second half passes. Now, just as it looked like St. John's was going to take over the momentum in this game, the game was tied at 43-43 after Brown's free throw.
Pitt went up by as many as six, 52-46 with 7:50 left, again looking to put the finishing touches on this win. Gibbs' sixth three-pointer, followed by a dunk from Dante Taylor—who made a few hustle plays with McGhee now on the bench after his fourth foul—gave Pitt that sixth-point lead.
Just has Pitt had done at the end of the first half, St. John's went on a 7-0 run to take a 58-56 lead with 27.6 seconds left. Hardy drew a contact foul from Woodall, who got sandwiched on a screen at the top of the arc. Hardy's free throws gave the Red Storm that two-point lead.
Dixon called a timeout to set up a play for the Panthers. Wanamaker drove the lane in the paint, and had what looked like a comfortable shot attempt. He drew the double-team, and right as he did, instead of shooting what looked like an open shot, he fed the ball to a wide-open Woodall, who drained a three-pointer with 11.3 seconds left. Pitt led 59-58.
St. John's had the ball with one last try at it, and it was Hardy who kept the ball in his hands for that last shot.
The Panthers fall to 24-3 on the season, and now 12-2 in the Big East. The Red Storm improves to 17-9 overall, 9-5 in the Big East.