Nothing that happened in the first 39 minutes tonight indicated that Ron Rowan would be shedding happy tears.
Twice, when St. John's was fighting desperately to come from behind, Rowan was caught in a Syracuse trap and gave up the ball. And with about 40 seconds left, he was tied up on the base line, and only the alternate possession arrow, pointing in the direction of the Redmen, kept his face from being red. "I was terrible," Rowan later confessed.
But ultimately, it was Rowan who saved fifth-ranked St. John's tonight. His 15-foot jumper from the right base line with eight seconds left gave the Redmen their only lead of the evening, a 70-69 victory over eighth-ranked Syracuse for the Big East tournament championship in Madison Square Garden.
"We passed it around a few times after a timeout with 19 seconds left , I looked at the clock and it was time to go," Rowan said. "Any ballplayer dreams about making the game-winning shot. I guess I made the most of my opportunity."
And how ironic that Syracuse point guard Dwayne (Pearl) Washington would play so splendidly all evening, tie the tournament record for assists in a single game (14), keep his team ahead on three big possessions after center Rony Seikaly had fouled out, only to have the potential game-winning layup blocked by Walter Berry with two seconds left.
Being named the tournament's outstanding player was no consolation for Washington.
So the Redmen (30-4) won their second Big East tournament.
The title is probably good for a No. 1 seeding in the West Regional when the NCAA tournament field of 64 teams is announced Sunday afternoon. Syracuse (25-5) also should be in that field, probably the No. 2 seed in the East.
But it was difficult for either team to think that far ahead tonight, especially Syracuse, which played superlative basketball for 30 minutes and held a six-point lead with less than five minutes remaining.
The big surprise for St. John's, Syracuse and the 19,591 in the Garden was the production the Redmen got out of 7-foot seldom-used freshman Marco Baldi in the final five minutes of the game.
Baldi's hook in the lane cut the St. John's deficit to 61-57 with 5:19 to play. Wendell Alexis scored a basket to give Syracuse another six-point cushion, 63-57. But Baldi, fouled inside, hit two free throws for 63-59.
After Rafael Addison missed a 20-footer for Syracuse, 6-11 Seikaly picked up his fifth foul while battling for the rebound with Baldi.
One could see Berry breathe a sigh of relief, for it was Seikaly who made all seven of his shots on offense, while making Berry's life miserable on defense.
As Seikaly squirmed on the bench, Baldi went to the line for two more foul shots that made it 63-61. Before tonight, Baldi was a 51 percent foul shooter. On these four attempts, the ball swished through without touching the rim.
"Who is he, anyway?" Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim joked. "I didn't have him on my scouting report. . . . The thing that hurt us with him was the free throws. When he goes to the line and makes four straight, that's not a good sign."
Syracuse called time with four minutes left and got a 14-footer from Washington for 65-61. But Mark Jackson, who had just broken the NCAA record for assists in a season (311), threw an in-bounds pass. Berry soared for it, caught it, and laid it in, all in the same breathtaking moment.
Berry, who also was fouled by Howard Triche, converted the free throw that made it a one-point game, 65-64, with 3:22 left.
With Addison (12 points) not scoring a point in the second half and Alexis stone cold, there was little doubt that Washington would do the shooting for Syracuse.
He sank another 16-footer to give his team a 67-64 lead with 3:02 left. And after a jumper by Rowan, he came back with two free throws for 69-66 with 1:11 to play.
Just after that, Rowan was trapped on the base line. But after the arrow enabled St. John's to retain possession, Willie Glass (19 points, eight rebounds) made two foul shots for 69-68.
Washington missed the front end of a one-and-one with 26 seconds to play that could have put the Orangemen in command. Berry grabbed the rebound, and St. John's called time and set up the final play.
Rowan, who already had made five of 10, made probably the biggest shot of his career over Alexis, who is about four inches taller.
"It was a great play," Boeheim said. "Tough play. I was more worried about the rebound than the shot, to tell you the truth."
Some people will wonder why Syracuse didn't call a timeout with eight seconds left. But Boeheim says he never calls time with less than 10 seconds left.
"Dwayne had a great, great game," Boeheim said. "We were going with the best player in the country for getting that kind of shot."
"I was by Walter," Washington said. "He just reached back and blocked it. It was a great play, a great play."
All Syracuse did in the first half was make great plays. The Orangemen made 19 of 26 shots (73 percent).
And when the comeback was complete, there was no one on the bench happier than St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca, who earlier this week was voted by his peers as coach of the year.
"When the clock went off," he said, "I jumped as high as 6-8 Shelton Jones."