St. John’s settles for NIT after failure in Big East

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It was the situation the St. John’s men’s basketball team wanted, it was the shot Marcus Hatten wanted and it was the matchup the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden wanted.

But with the game tied at 67, the only thing lacking from Hatten’s one-on-one battle with Boston College’s Troy Bell in the closing seconds of regulation was the result Red Storm coach Mike Jarvis sought.

A basket.

Hatten’s spinning jumper from just inside the foul line as time expired bounced off the back of the rim, and led by freshman sensation Craig Smith, who scored 10 of his career-high 33 points in overtime, Boston College ended St. John’s modest four-game winning streak and its slim hopes of an NCAA tournament bid with an 82-75 victory in the Big East quarterfinals last Thursday.

Along with Big East teams Seton Hall, Villanova and Boston College, St. John’s will play in the National Invitational Tournament, hosting Boston University at Alumni Hall in a game scheduled for Wednesday night.

“I was right at the free throw line so it was the shot that I wanted, and the shot I took felt good,” Hatten said. “But it was just a little too hard.”

In what very well could have been Hatten’s final game at Madison Square Garden — in a St. John’s uniform, at least — the senior guard struggled with his shot for a second straight game.

Hatten finished with a team-high 19 points, but shot just 7-for-17 from the field and 1-for-5 from three-point range, and had 6 assists and 6 turnovers.

But all that would have been forgotten if Hatten could have dropped yet another buzzer-beater.

“Hatten is a great player and he makes big plays down the stretch,” Bell said. “When I saw it leave his hands it was straight on, but I could tell it was a little too hard and I was hoping he wasn’t going to bank it and ruin my night.”

Bell, the Big East Player of the Year, also struggled. Guarded by Willie Shaw, the Boston College senior guard scored 18 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. He also had 6 assists, but he turned the ball over five times, including twice in a span of 23 seconds in the final two minutes.

Shaw (17 points) stripped Bell at the top of the key and converted a three-point play on a layup while getting fouled by Bell to tie the game at 64 with 1:41 left. Bell then dribbled the ball off his foot on the Eagles ensuing possession and Hatten knocked down a pair of free throws to put St. John’s (16-13) ahead, 66-64 with one minute left in the second half.

But Bell was bailed out by Smith, a versatile 6-foot-7, 265-pound freshman whose 33 points were one shy of the Big East tournament freshman scoring record, set by Georgetown’s Victor Page in 1996.

“He was virtually unstoppable today. He got guys on his back and he got a lot of easy shots,” Hatten said of Smith. “He really was the man today.”

After Andrew Bryant bricked a three-point attempt from the left wing, Smith grabbed the rebound and scored while getting fouled by Kyle Cuffe. Smith, who was 9-for-11 from the foul line and also grabbed 11 rebounds, completed the three-point play to tie the game at 67 with 28.8 seconds left.

“The shot that Smith rebounded and put back was a God-awful shot. If it was a regular miss, he doesn’t get the rebound,” Jarvis said. “But it was such a bad shot and those shots, almost like an air ball, the defensive man is almost helpless.”

A nifty up-and-under move by Smith gave Boston College (18-10) a 75-73 lead with 1:13 left in overtime and — after Shaw was stripped on the baseline — knocked down two more free throws with 43.1 seconds left to make it a two possession game.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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