Jim Lynam calls them "buzzer jobs." His St. Joseph's basketball team has played about 15 of them this season and tonight it won another -- a bizarre, sloppy, 42-41 victory over Boston College in the semifinals of the NCAA Mideast regional.
On Sunday, the Hawks, who hadn't reached a regional final since 1961 when Lynam was at St. Joe's sophomore guard, will play Indiana. The host Hoosiers beat Alabama-Birmingham, 87-72, behind all-America guard Isiah Thomas' 27 points in tonight's second game.
In the opener, Bryan Warrick's two free throws with 21 seconds left, the second one hitting the rim three times before going in, sent the Hawks into the championship game.
"When this team is presented with an opportunity," Lynam said, "it grabs it by the throat."
That was not quite the case tonight. It was more a matter of hanging onto opportunity by the fingernails.
After Warrick made his free throws, John Bagley, BC's leading scorer who hit just four of 14 from the floor for 11 points, missed a 12-footer. But Jay Murphy (10 points) grabbed the rebound and put up your basice layup. He missed, too, and John Smith, the hero of the Hawks' victory over top-ranked De Paul six days ago, got the rebound.
He was fouled with six seconds left. Eagle Coach Tom Davis called his last timeout. Earlier, he had called two timeouts to try and freeze Warrick. That tactic failed. This time was different.
Smith had described his layup that beat De Paul as "a Fourth and Shunk shot," a tribute to the West Philadelphia playground where he grew up. Apparently, they didn't shoot a lot of foul shots on his playground. Smith barely hit the rim with his free throw.
Murphy rebounded with four seconds left and passed the ball to Dwan Chandler at midcourt. But when Chandler came down with the pass, he had one foot in the front court, one in the back court: over and back. St Joe's ball.
"I was pushed," Chandler insisted. "I went up, got pushed and came down that way. It should have been a foul."
It wasn't. St. Joe's took over with too seconds left, got the ball inbounds to Lonnie McFarlan and it was over. The Hawks are in the NCAA final eight. They have won three games by a total of four points while averaging 50 points a game. They beat BC (23-7) tonight even though leading-scorer Boo Williams was zero for seven from the floor and scored one point.
"But it's been enough, and that's all that matters," said Warrick, who scored 20 points and was the only player on either team able to do anything offensively with any consistency. "People always put down Eastern basketball. Well, in '79 Penn went to the final four. Last year, Georgetown went far (region final) and still they call themn upsets. That's fine. We're still playing Sunday."
The Hawks might not be playing Sunday after shooting 39 percent tonight had not BC shot 35 percent and ran its delay offense at the end as if it was something inserted yesterday in practice.
"I wasn't too happy with the way we played," BC Coach Tom Davis said. "We didn't react well here; not nearly as well as last weekend. The pressure got to us. Nobody seemed to want to shoot for us."
Almost from the very beginning, the Eagles played at a snail's pace. Each possession, as Lynam put it, "seemed to last a day and a half." The pace of the game can best be summed up by noting that St. Joe's went the last 7:22 of the first half without a point and still only trailed, 22-18, at the half because BC scored only four points during that time.
In fact, from 3:15 remaining in the first half until 16:12 was left in the second, neither team scored. That drougt finally was broken when Murphy hit a short hook for the Eagles to make it 24-18.
Then each team traded "runs," St. Joe's scoring eight straight points and BC countering with seven in a row for a 36-31 lead with 10 minutes to play.
At that point, Lynam was tempted to pull his team out of its zone, but he decided to be patient a little longer.His patience was rewarded.
The Hawks cut the lead to 31-29 on a layup by Smith, on the Hawks' fourth shot of the sequence, then the teams played almost even until Davis decided to spread his offense after Warrick's free throw made it 35-32 with 4:20 left. t
St. Joe's went to a 1-3-1 trapping zone and it worked immediately, Warrick stealing a pass from Bagley for a layup and a 35-34 margin. BC ran the clock to 2:28 before Murphy was fouled and made it 37-34.
But 6-10 freshman center Tony Costner (eight points) hit a short jumper and McFarlan stole a pass and fed Warrick for another layup that put the Hawks up, 38-37, with 1:33 remaining. Bagley finally hit a bomb to make it 39-38 eight seconds later, but McFarlan scored and it was 40-39 with 55 seconds left. Bagley then sank two free throws to make it 41-40.
Now 46 seconds remained. The Hawks worked the ball into the corner to Warrick. He gave freshman center Murphy a pump fake, drawing the foul with 21 seconds left.
"I wasn't even thinking about the shots during the timeouts," Warwick said. "I was really thinking about what was going to happen afterward. Either way, there was still going to be a lot to do."
After the two timeouts, Warrick made the free throws.
The level of play in the second game was considerably higher.
Against most teams, UAB might have been a winner. But, after trailing, 25-19, in the first 10 minutes, the Hosiers played almost flawless basketball the rest of the way.
Thomas again was the dominant figure, closing out his performance with eight straight free throws down the stretch when the Blazers were fouling to try and get even. Randy Wittman had 20 points for the Hoosiers (23-9), most of them on shots from the outside, and Ray Tolbert had 17, with two ferocious dunks that built a 72-60 lead and buried UAB for good with 6:34 left.
Oliver Robinson led the game Blazers, who finished their third season with a 23-9 record, with 17 points. Glenn Marcus, the gutty little point guard had 13 points and got a handshake and pat on the back from Bob Knight when he fouled out. That prompted the very partisan IU fans among the 17,091 to give him a well-deserved ovation.