St. John's center Wayne McKoy rebounded in a missed shot with four seconds to play as the Redmen beat Rutgers, 67-65, in one of tonight's two upsets in the NCAA East semifinals.
St. John's, the 40th and final team selected for the tournament, will play Penn at 1 p.m. Sunday for a trip to Salt Lake City for the natuonal semifinals March 24.
The Redmen, seeded 10th here, feel fortunate to be in the tournament at all. Penn, the Ivy League champion which felt slighted with its No. 9 seeding, showed it is a superb basketball team in an 84-76 upset of Syracuse.
A crowd announced at 9,102 -- but seemingly smaller -- saw that St. John's win over Duke and Penn's win over North Carolina in second round games last Sunday in Raleigh were not flukes.
Rutgers can only blame itself for its defeat, its first by St. John's in three meetings this season. The Scarlet Knights failed to put the Redmen away despite numerous opportunities and three St. John's starters having four fouls each four minutes into the second half.
At the end, it was anybody's game. When Daryl Strickland missed the first of his one-and-one free throws with 40 seconds to play, it gave St. John's a chance for the final shot and overtime the worst possibility if it missed.
St. john's Coach Lou Carnesecca who says his Redmen's opportunity to play in the NCAA and then their two victories is "a real fairy tale, called a timeout with 17 seconds to play. He ordered a play for Reggie Carter, the same play he made to beat Duke.
Carter was St. John's hot scorer, having gotten 10 of its previous 12 points. Carnesecca wanted Carter to shoot with four or five seconds to play. He did, but the ball hit the rim and bounded toward the middle of the lane.
"Fortunately," said McKoy, "it just fell into my hands and the only thing to do was put it up. I don't know how it (the ball) got there. It just landed in my hands."
Rutgers Coach Tom Young said Thursday his worst fear was that his players would not be mentally ready, since they had beaten St. John's twice this season and six out of the last seven games. They were not, lacking the concentration that won them nine straight.
The Knights scored only two baskets in the final 7 1/2 minutes against a St. John's zone that sagged on All-America center James Bailey, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the first 23 minutes.
"We didn't run our offense to the fullest," said forward Adbel Anderson. "We tried to short-cut it, and that's when we messed it up. We got shook up at the end and didn't do what we know we can."
In the first game, Penn rooters wore buttons that said, "It's No Longer a Secret." But even the most ardent Quaker fans would not have believed the manner in which Penn's quickness would hand Syracuse its fourth loss in 30 games.
Penn had a 50-37 halftime lead, with forwards Tim Smith and Tony Price each scoring 14 points, and the Quakers continually beating their opponents up and down the court.
"Penn really played great," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, who is not known for heaping praise on his conquerors. "They outhustled us. They are the first team that has beaten us up the court this year. I'm not North Carolina. I know they're good. Tony Price is the best all-around forward we've seen this year."
Penn's first-half success forced Boeheim to bench slow-footed, good-shooting starting guards Hal Cohen and Marty Headd in the second half. Syracuse played better defense, but two key plays slowed the Orange rally.
At 60-53, 12 minutes to play, Eddie Moss' lob pass for forward Louis Orr bounded off Orr's hands out of bounds on the hit-or-miss play. Penn then got a three-point play form center Matt White of Bethesda, Md., and had a 10-point lead.
At 69-61, after Penn's James Salters missed an open 12-footer, Moss collided with Salters as the Syracuse player put up a successful shot. But he was called for an offensive foul, his fifth, and instead of a change to cut the margin to two, Penn got the ball back.
A minute later, the officials would discover they had failed to give the Quakers a bonus opportunity on a foul. Since only one dead ball had occured, it was a correctable mistake. So Price made two free throws, Ken Hall made two and it was 73-64.