It was truly an effort of royalty. St. John's defeated Boston College, 85-77, today to win the Big East Conference tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
After many in the hometown sellout of 19,591 at Madison Square Garden swarmed the court in a postgame celebration, Coach Lou Carnesecca of the Redmen quoted a former St. John's coach, saying of his players, "Today they walked with kings. They really did."
True enough. St. John's (27-4) shot 75 percent from the field in the first half and 68 percent (28 of 42) in the game. These Redmen consistently swept past a Boston College full-court press that used to be considered harmful to an opponent's health.
In fact, St. John's played with such a regal touch that when senior center John Garris of Boston College scored a tournament-high 32 points, making 12 of 23 shots, it hardly mattered.
Furthermore, the Redmen played man-to-man and zone defenses strict enough to make Boston College shoot only 39 percent from the field. Most depressingly for the Eagles, guard Michael Adams, Boston College's 5-foot-8 engine, made only one of 13 shots, scoring five points.
Very often, Boston College (24-6) successfully worked the ball for top-quality open shots. That, however, was where the success often stopped. "We just missed our shots," Coach Gary Williams of Boston College said.
"The little chippies, that's what we were missing," Adams said.
St. John's sophomore guard Chris Mullin, voted the tournament's most valuable player, scored 23 points worth of gentle left-handed jumpers. Senior forward Billy Goodwin, also selected for the all-tournament team, scored 20 points on a variety of darting moves across the lane, then hopped on top of many shoulders to cut down the net after the game.
And senior forward David Russell scored 19 points, including the driving, twisting layup that guaranteed the Redmen victory. Russell was fouled on the play by Garris and completed the three-point play that gave the Redmen a 70-63 lead with 3:50 left.
Until that point, the game had been almost even. Even though the Redmen made 15 of 20 shots in the first half--Mullin, five for 10 from the field, was the only St. John's player to miss in the half--St. John's held only a 40-37 lead.
"That's because they had 10 turnovers and we had just three in the first half; that evened out the the shooting percentage," said Williams, whose team shot 43 percent in the half while feeding Garris inside for 14 of his points.
St. John's began the second half with a 9-4 streak. Seven-foot Bill Wennington (nine points) scored six of those on a layin and two dunks that were created when the Redmen zipped past the full-court press. The streak gave St. John's a 49-41 advantage, with 16:19 left.
Reserve forward Terrence Talley of Boston College then brought the Eagles back to life, almost back to equilibrium. With some powerful inside moves, Talley rang up nine points and five rebounds today. He also kept Boston College within four to six points until 3:50 was left.
This was the moment when Russell made his nifty three-point play. Consequently, the St. John's lead jettisoned to 70-63.
Though Boston College forward Martin Clark (10 points) proceeded to make four middle-range jumpers and though he and his teammates played the rest of the game with a controlled fury, running all about the court in desperation, never again were the Eagles within five points.
Not surprisingly, Redmen players said the Boston College full-court press wasn't too tough to crack today. "I was getting the ball to Billy, David or (guard) Bobby Kelly when they tried to make that first trap," said Mullin, who made seven of 13 shots today. "And that was that."
Twice this season, Boston College, top-seeded in this tournament, had defeated third-seeded St. John's. Its full-court press was one major reason for these victories.
Boston College, sitting steady with a proud overall record, will undoubtedly earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Someone asked Coach Lou Carnesecca of St. John's if he had any preferences as to which NCAA regional he would like his team to attend. "Doesn't matter. We've played everywhere," said the coach his players like to call "Little Looie the Tyrant."
Then, after a day spent with royalty, Carnesecca deadpanned: "Actually, I think there is one place we have never played: Juneau."