St. John’s Beats UConn To Take Big East Tournament Title
What a week for St. John’s basketball! The Red Storm won the 2000 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden last Saturday night by dethroning the University of Connecticut Huskies, last year’s champions, 80-70 before a sellout crowd of 19,528.der=0 bgcolor="#D0D0D0">
But that is only part of the story. The Johnnies overcame a very temporary "leave of absence" by Erick Barkley, who came back to the team Saturday, put some internal strife behind him and went out and won the Big East Tournament for the first time since 1986.
After St.John’s squeaked by the University of Miami in a thrilling finish to win 58-57 in a semi-final game Mar. 10th, Barkley issued a statement that he was taking a leave of absence from the team.Apparently Barkley was feeling the pressures of an ongoing NationalCollegiate Athletic Association investigation and after the game, got into an argument with teammate Bootsy Thornton. Evidently no punches were thrown, but it was a confrontation that needed to be addressed the next day in a team meeting.
Barkley returned to the team on Saturday during practice on the Queens campus.The situation with Thornton was straightened out and everyone was on the same page to prepare for the championship game versus Connecticut. Head Coach Mike Jarvis was glad to have Barkley back for Saturday’s big game against the Huskies. "This team is a family,"Jarvis said. "One of our family members probably redefined a leave of absence. You go home to your own bed, spend a goodnight’s sleep, so you come back and help your team win the Big East Championship."
St. Johns (24-7) began their three-game second season with another pulsating finish inThursday night’s quarter-final game versus the Villanova University Wildcats.The Johnnies played a nearly flawless first half, taking a commanding 41-26 lead into half-time.But Villanova, which shot only 34.5 percent from the field in the first half, started making their shots in the second half. Malik Allen, the talented Wildcats’ center, started hitting from the inside and the Johnnies’ big lead slowly began to slip away.When Villanova’s Brooks Sales made a layup that tied the score at 64-64 just under 5:00 to play, it was anyone’s game.Sales hit a 13-foot jumper to put ‘Nova up 66-64 and the St.John’s faithful got pretty nervous.
But the Johnnies responded to the Wildcats’ rally with some big plays of their own.Thornton, who scored 21 points, hit his biggest basket of the game, a trey, to give SJU a 69-68 lead with just 1:18 remaining.But Villanova wasn’t going down without a fight and took back the lead when Gary Buchanan converted two free throws to make it 70-69 "Nova." SJU’s Chudney Gray then came through with a beautiful, twisting drive to the basket for two points.Gray was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.But more importantly, the Johnnies had the lead at 71-70, with just :40.4 left.Villanova ran a play for Allen but he missed his shot, one of the few times he did in the second half.St. John’s rebounded Allen’s shot and Thornton hit a wide open AnthonyGlover for the easy jam to put SJUup 73-70 with 16.3 ticks on the clock.The St. John’s fans in attendance went wild.Barkley was fouled and added two free throws to ice the game.
Jarvis was impressed with the way his team fought back from the brink of losing a very tough one. "Somehow we found a way to win again,"Jarvis said.The Red Storm coach thought the team found the will to win when it needed it most, in the final frantic minutes. "Luckily the guys decided that the season was not going to end tonight and just found a way,"Jarvis said.Thornton led St. John’s with 21 points.Four St. John’s players scored in double figures.
St.John’s faced the University of Miami (21-10) in Friday night’s semi-final matchup before another sold-out crowd at the Garden.The Red Storm recently lost a very tough physical game in Miami which went into overtime. This game was billed as a clash between two of the best Big East teams in the conference with the winner advancing to the championship game.The Johnnies won the defensive struggle in one of the most memorable finishes in St.John’s Big East Tournament history when Anthony Glover hit two huge clutch free throws with just 2.2 seconds left to give the Storm a 58-57 lead.St. John’s held its collective breath when Lavor Postell fouled Ler Hurd of Miami with just 1.1 second left. The freshman forward went to the charity stripe with a chance to win the
game for Miami. But Hurd missed the first end of a one-and-one free throw, and the Johnnies grabbed the rebound and held on for an amazing win.
Postell and Chudney Gray each scored 14 points for St. John’s in the winning effort. But Glover’s last two points made the difference. Mario Bland converted two free throws with 7.6 seconds to put the Hurri canes ahead 57-56,when he was fouled.SJUhad the bell and time enough to score but couldn’t get off a good shot.Luckily, the Storm got the ball out of bounds underneath the Miami basket with just 2.6 seconds to play. St.John’s ran a play designed for Postell or Thornton, two of St. John’s hottest scoring players, but they were covered.But Glover was left open and was fouled just as he was ready to take a shot.The sophomore forward-center had been erratic from the line all night, but when it really counted, he came through big-time. SJUshot only 36.5 percent from the floor and still won the game.
Jarvis put some perspective on the final nerve-wracking seconds. "I don’t know what more could happen in two seconds than what happened tonight. It was just incredible,"Jarvis said. Postell realized that he could have made a huge gaffe, but was spared whenHurd missed his first free throw. "I mean, I’m a senior for four years. Plays like that, I let them catch it and make a shot from half court,"Postell said. "I thought it was clean—the ref thought I touched him, so they had an opportunity to win the game but he Lord was on our side."
Friday’s exciting win over Miami gave the Red Storm a chance at redemption. The UConn Huskies came out on fire and routed the Johnnies in last year’s Big East Championship game.But this is a different season.This year the Huskies (24-9) had to play four consecutive nights to reach the Finals.They were also trying to keep their record 9-0 consecutive wins in Big East Tournament games intact.What better way than to get another win in the Finals.But the Johnnies had other ideas.Before another sellout crowd at the Garden,St. John;s came out focused and asserted itself in t he first-half.
This would not be a repeat of last year. St. John’s played with fire and intensity. SJU was hot from the floor, hitting a hefty 56 percent of its shots. Thornton again made his presence known and made key baskets throughout the game.He lead allSJU scoring players with 22 points. Barkley shook off his recent off-the-court problems and had an excellent game, adding 19 points. Glover, playing with increasing confidence, scored 15 points, often matched up against taller players. Senior co-captain Postell added 14 points.Albert Mouring, a three-point specialist for UConn, had 22 points, including six treys.
This is the season St. John’s outplayed UConn in three wins—a rare feat. The large contingent of UConn fans were reduced to sitting in near silence as it became apparent that St.John’s would win the game and there would be a new beast of the Big East.
The Red Storm took a 37-28 half-time lead and built on it.At one point, the Storm had a 15-point lead in the second half at 60-45. St. John’s led throughout the entire second half.When UConn made a late run, the Storm held its composure and made the right plays to run off the clock and let the Huskies chase after the ball.When St.John’s players were fouled, they made their shots and prevented UConn from pulling a great comeback out from its bag of tricks.
St. John’s scored 20 points off Connecticut turnovers, a fact that Connecticut CoachJim Calhoun thought was a big factor in the game.
Jarvis and the players were thrilled with the win."Winning the Big East Championship is very, very special.The fact that we beat Connecticut in the championship game probably makes it every more special because of how great their program is,"Jarvis said. Barkley, who came back to the team to help contribute to the win, was emotional after the game. "Well, I’ve got a lump in my throat, but I’m not going to cry. It feels great,"Barkley said.Thornton, who has played very well these last five weeks, said he wanted to win because he didn’t want to go through watching Connecticut collect another trophy on the Storm’s home court. "Coach made us sit out there on the court last year and watch UConn celebrate on the court,"he said.Thornton said the team was focused and was ready for the challenge in playing in the title game.
Barkley and Postell made the 2000 Big East All-Tournament team.Thornton was named Most Outstanding Player for the tournament. Upset of the tournament was number nine seed Georgetown defeating number one seed Syracuse 76-72.