Pennsylvania, rallying with five straight baskets that St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca called "bazooka shots," won the NCAA East Regional basketball championship, 64-62, today as James Salters sank two free throws that broke a tie with 23 seconds to play.
The Quakers, becoming the first Ivy League team in the final four since the Bill Bradley 1965 Princeton squad, were not assured victory until St. John's missed three shots and freshman center Vincent Ross intercepted a Redman desperation full-court pass with two seconds to play.
Penn, a quick, veteran team underrated all season because of its league affiliation, will take a 25-5 record to Salt Lake City for a Saturday national semifinal game against Michigan State, the Mideast Regional winner.
Forwards Tony Price and Tim Smith scored 27 of Penn's 35 secondhalf points, coming on after a first half in which their shots would not drop but St. John's couldn't capitalize.
Price sat out the final seven minutes of the first half with three fouls and missed six minutes of the second half with four. Nevertheless, Price and missed six minutes of the second half with four. Nevertheless, Price scored 15 of his 21 points after intermission and was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Penn led, 29-26, at the half and those few Atlantic Coast Conference fans in the half-empty Greensboro Coliseum -- 7,216 customers showed up -- must have been chortling that the conquerors of their beloved North Carolina and Duke teams had four more turnovers (23) than baskets through 20 minutes.
As Penn continued to miss shots, St. John's forward Ron Plair was deadly accurate. His eighth straight basket without a miss, ending in a threepoint play, gave the Redmen a 47-43 lead with 10:31 to play.
Smith, normally a fine outside shooter for Penn, then missed his seventh shot in 10 tries. But St. John's center Wayne McKoy missed at the other end and the Redmen came back with a zone defense packed inside.
Here came the bazookas.
Salters delivered a 20-footer from the left corner. Next, Smith hit twice, first from the deep corner, then from left of the top of the key. Price then re-entered the game and connected on a 22-footer. Smith's 20-footer finally regained the lead for Penn, 53-52, with 5:44 to play.
"We had some guys in foul trouble and some guys on the bench," Carnesecca said. "The purpose of any zone is to make them shoot from the outside. Give them credit. They took long bazooka shots and they made them."
Penn mastermind Bobby Weinhauer, going to the final four in his second year as a head coach, said the Quakers had no alternative but to take the outside, open shots.
"We'd like to go inside, but (openings) weren't showing," Weinhauer said. "If you're in high school, you've got to work for a better shot. But at this level, with Smith and Price taking the shots, you've got to take the shot that's there. Timmy's an excellent outside shooter."
Carnesecca evaluated: "They've got two outstanding, underrated players in Price and Smith, tremendous quickness and penetration. Their smartness doesn't surprise me. After all, they're an Ivy League school. I hope they're smart, because some day they'll run this country."
Smith admitted to some doubts about continuing to shoot, but he said that Weinhauer told him not to stop. "They really compressed the zone," he said. "I guess they really didn't think we had a perimeter game going."
That hot shooting streak got Penn back in control. The Quakers had chances to wrap the game up sooner, but Salters missed twice and Price missed once on the finale of bonus situations.
Then Penn center Matt White of Bethesda, Md. threw up a bad shot on an offensive rebound and fouled out going for his rebound, sending Frank Gilroy to the line for St. John's with Gilroy to the line for St. John's with a one-and-one. His two free throws tied the game at 62 with 52 seconds to play.
Both his starting guards having fouled out, Carnesecca did not want to let Penn play for the final shot. So, with 23 seconds left, senior reserve Tom Calabrese went for a steal and fouled Salters. He made both ends of his one-and-one.
The Redmen called time with 0:17 to play and Carnesecca told his players to take the first available open shot.He did not have either Bernard Rencher or Reggie Carter, his guards whose offense at the end beat both whose offens at the end beat both Duke and Rutgers.
Calabrese, a shooting guard (35 points per game) in high school converted to point guard at St. John's, missed his first shot of the game -- only his 57th attempt of the season.
He was wide open from 17 feet, but the ball hit the back iron and bounced out. Gordon Thomas missed a 12-footer with the rebound and Plair, jostled by teammate McKoy, shot an air ball from eight feet, his only miss in 10 tries.
Price captured the rebound and was fouled by Gilroy with three seconds left. He missed the first foul shot and St. John's rebounded, quickly calling a timeout. Thomas' full-court pass, just under the Coliseum scoreboard, was caught by Penn's Ross, ending the game.
"We were told to take the first good shot," said Calabrese. "I thought it was going in. It didn't I had to take it."
Carnesecca and Plair agreed.
"Seeing that I was the hot man, they were keying on me to take the last shot," said Plair. "We wanted a clean shot and we got it. On my last shot, someone hit me in the face. I thought it was a Penn player. They told me McKoy turned around and hit me."
St. John's, the 40th team selected for the 40-team tournament, finished its season at 21-11.
Now Penn, a rare favorite today, goest to Salt Lake City as the underdog again. "It's a much nicer role to be in," Weinhauer said. "That's what I found out today"