Syracuse beat St. John's today, 72-71, on Louis Orr's driving layup at the buzzer and threw the race for the Big East regular-season title into a three-way tie.

After losing to Georgetown Tuesday night for its first defeat at home in 58 games, syracuse now is dead even with the Hoyas and St. John's.

St. John's defeated the Hoyas, 71-69, on a last-second shot at Georgetown in January.

Reggie Carter, more than any other player, felt he was on the receiving end of the final play, the one that had Orr taking a sharp pass from Hal Cohen past midcourt and driving for a victory St. John's seemed to have tucked away. Carter's bank shot had given the Redmen a 71-70 lead with 23 seconds to play. Then Syracuse called time.

Orr inbounded to Cohen near midcourt, and the Syracuse guard bumped into Bernard Rencher for what was called an offensive foul St. John's took over and, with seven seconds, Rencher was again fouled, this time by Erich Santifer.

Rencher missed the first shot of his one-and-one and the rebound was picked off by 6-11 Dan Schayes, whose outlet pass went to Cohen.

"It's like we had it planned in practice," Cohen said. Cohen dribbled through the hurriedly instructed Redmen defence and spotted Orr.

"I saw the play developing," Carter said. "I knew it was going to happen," And he say two options.

"I could go for the ball (a block) or a charge," Carter said. A block didn't seem feasible for the 6-3 Carter against the 6-8 Orr, so he chose to establish position and draw a charging foul. Orr sailed toward the rim, the players collided, the ball went in and it was up to referee Rich Slonkowski to decide St. John's fate.

He pointed to Carter, who was sprawled on the floor, signifying a blocking foul. The basket was good, time had expired and it didn't matter that Orr missed his free throw.

St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca charged into the officials' dressing room, but was solemn when he came out. Carter tried to be the same.

"It was just a tough call," Carter said. "I was lying there, hoping for something from the official. Yeah, I thought I had position. But he figured I didn't."

Orr had a diplomatic response when asked if he had committed a foul.

"Whenever there's a charge or a blocking foul, it's a questionable call," he said. "I don't know what to think. I thougt he moved when I was in the air, but you never know what they're gonna call."

Carnesecca said: "It was a very questionable play, but you don't hear me crying about that stuff. What am I gonna say? I don't talk about referees. What can I say? It came down to the last play. It was the kind of game that should have been a final game. All I can find fault with is that we lost by one point."

St. John's once had led by nine points in the first half but Syracuse scored 10 straight points to trail by two at halftime.

Five seconds into the second half, St. John's seemed poised to take control to the Syracuse bench with four fouls. He stayed out until 9:17 remained. Wayne McKoy, who usually has foul difficulty, scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half. Freshman Dave Russell, who led St. John's with 19, scored 15 in the first half.

Orr finished with 29 points, including 13 of 16 from the Free-throw line. By comparison, St. John's only made 11 free throws. Syracuse is 22-2, while St. John's dropped to 21-3.

"A game like this will stay in our minds a long time," Curtis Redding said. "The game was ours. When the game is yours, you're supposed to win."

And Rencher, the team's second best foul shooter behind Carter, could only think of the shot he missed. The one that made all the rest of it possible.

"It was like, you know, a heartbreaker," he said.