There hasn’t been a better player in the Big East over the last three weeks than Dwight Hardy, averaging 25.3 ppg as St. John’s has won five of their last six games.
He did it again on Saturday afternoon.
Down 56-51 with three minutes left in the game, Hardy scored five points in a 7-0 that gave the Johnnies a two point lead with 27 seconds left. After a Travon Woodall three put No. 4 Pitt back in the lead with 11.3 seconds left, it was Hardy time. Getting the ball on the right wing, he drove baseline and was cut off by Gilbert Brown. He hesitated and managed to maneuver his way around Brown, hitting a difficult, reverse scoop in the lane with just 1.2 seconds left. Brad Wanamaker’s desperation heave was offline, and the Johnnies landed yet another marquee victory at the Garden, this time 60-59 over the Panthers. (Ahem, I called it.)
Hardy may be the hero, but credit also must be given to Paris Horne, who outworked Gilbert Brown for an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw with less than a minute left and the game tied.
The game did not end without controversy, however.
As he spun around Brown, Hardy came very close to the end line. ESPN did not have any great angles on the replay, but from the camera above the basket, you can see both of Hardy’s heels over the line. Were his heels on the ground?
No call was made, however, and St. John’s is now tied with Villanova, Georgetown, and Louisville for third place in the Big East standings. With three very winnable games in their last four, we could be looking at a situation where St. John’s earns one of the top four seeds in the Big East Tournament.
Who saw that happening this season?
The question now isn’t whether or not St. John’s can steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament. In all honesty, it hasn’t been in a while. The question is just how highly will they be seeded?
The Johnnies now have wins over two teams in contention for a No. 1 seed in Duke and Pitt. They have three other wins over teams in contention for a top four seed in UConn, Georgetown, and Notre Dame. All of those wins came at home, but the Johnnies have also won at West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Marquette, three teams that will be fighting for at-large bids.
Yes, St. John’s lost to both Fordham and St. Bonaventure earlier this season, but those losses came back in December. Since then, no one in the country has amassed the number of quality wins that the Johnnies can currently claim.
I know it goes against protocol to compare profiles from different seasons, but last year Notre Dame struggled their way through the entire season, but they won six in a row to end the season and earned a six seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That team wasn’t as impressive as this St. John’s team is.
And while the strength of the Johnnies is their balance and their team oriented approach on both ends of the floor, the difference maker for this team has been Hardy.
Steve Lavin recently said that Hardy was the Big East player of the year. While Kemba Walker, Ben Hansbrough, and Austin Freeman may disagree with that sentiment, if Hardy continues to play the way he has the past seven games, that result may not be as far-fetched as you think.