NEW YORK – Madison Square Garden has been a special court for St. John's in its return to national prominence.
The latest win there for the Red Storm — 65-63 over Rutgers in the second round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday — was achieving legendary status within minutes of the game ending.
It wasn't great plays by St. John's that will make this a memorable game. Rather it was two turnovers that weren't called and this wasn't just the losing team complaining about a tough loss.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto issued a statement about 40 minutes after the game ended admitting there were two errors made by the veteran officiating crew.
A wild last minute that had two lead changes, two turnovers that were called, the two that weren't and two missed free throws finished with Justin Brownlee of St. John's taking a couple of extra steps, stepping out of bounds and throwing the ball into the stands while the final 1.7 seconds ticked off the clock.
"The Big East Conference acknowledges that two separate officiating errors occurred at the conclusion of the St. John's vs. Rutgers game," he said, referring to the travel and stepping out of bounds. "Both missed violations should have caused the game clock to stop and a change of possession to occur prior to the end of the game. Neither error is reviewable or correctable under NCAA rules."
The result will stand. The 17th-ranked and fifth-seeded Red Storm (21-10) advanced to the tournament quarterfinals for the 20th time overall and first since 2003.
Under first-year coach Steve Lavin, the Red Storm closed the regular season winning nine of 11 and all but one of the six wins against ranked teams came at the Garden. The lone loss was 79-56 to Syracuse on Jan. 12.
Rutgers (15-17) puts the balls away now, the first season under coach Mike Rice in the books with the questionable ending.
"Was there a mistake made? I saw it on YouTube. There was a mistake made," he said of the veteran officiating crew of Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton. "I'm sure they'll admit it. I made several mistakes, my players made several mistakes. I'm sure our staff made several mistakes.
"It has to be a mistake. It's got to be. I just saw it on YouTube. ... It's unfortunate. Believe me, there's going to be blood coming through my tongue right now, but it is what it is. We're going to control how we respond."
Brownlee was able to let out the loudest sigh of relief.
"I just let my emotions get to me. I was just trying to throw it up so the time would expire," he said. "Unfortunately I threw it too early. Fortunately time did expire and we came up with the win."
Brownlee was asked if he did step out of bounds in front of the scorer's table.
"A couple of people said I did but I didn't realize I was out of bounds," he said. "But fortunately it doesn't matter now. I thought time had expired. It was so loud and stuff so I just threw it."
There were over 38 minutes of basketball played before the wild ending and even though it wasn't the kind of game that called for instant classic status, it was exciting.
Dwight Hardy had 17 points for the Red Storm (21-10), who improved to 8-1 on the Garden court this season and moved into the quarterfinals Thursday against fourth-seeded and 11th-ranked Syracuse (25-6).
James Beatty had 15 points for the Scarlet Knights (15-17), who advanced to the second round with an overtime win over Seton Hall on Tuesday.
D.J. Kennedy was fouled with 4.9 seconds left and made the second of two to give St. John's the 65-63 lead.
Rutgers still had one chance but a long pass just inside midcourt was knocked away and no foul was called. Brownlee picked up the loose ball, appeared to take a couple of steps then stepped out of bounds before throwing the ball into the stands with time still left on the clock.
Rice ran around looking for an official to give him an explanation but they had walked off the court and the Red Storm had another big win at the Garden.
"The players in the locker room were discussing it a little bit, and some of the staff," Lavin said. "I couldn't see. ... It was all really chaotic."
Sean Evans had 13 points and nine rebounds for St. John's but the 55 percent free throw shooter came up big on the line, making both ends of a 1-and-1 with 17.7 seconds left that gave the Red Storm a 64-61 lead.
Mike Coburn made two free throws with 14.3 seconds left to bring the Scarlet Knights within 64-63. St. John's turned the ball over on the inbounds pass. After a timeout Coburn missed a drive with 8 seconds left.
Brownlee missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 7.3 seconds left but Paris Horne crashed the boards on the miss and knocked the ball out of bounds off Jonathan Mitchell of Rutgers.
Brownlee had 13 points and Kennedy added 11 for St. John's.
Coburn finished with 11 points and Gilvydas Biruta had 10 points and eight rebounds for Rutgers.
"I love the toughness of the team, whether they're down 10, halftime, made a turnover, bad shot, they just kept fighting, they kept playing," Rice said. "A credit to these seniors and how they developed through the season.
"It is what it is. Can't control what happens, you can control how you respond, and these guys responded like men."
St. John's won the teams' only regular season game, 58-56 on Feb. 2, and the Red Storm have won eight of the last 11 between the New York Metropolitan area rivals.
"When you step into the postseason, it's rarified air. Teams are galvanized because they have a reason, to get to the NCAA tournament," Lavin said. "... On the flip side, I'm proud of our players to have the composure and poise to win a game, and that's what you have to do at this stage of the season, just try to advance."