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Another miracle for St. John’s as Hatten steals show in semis

Marcus Hatten has done everything on the basketball court for the St. John’s men’s basketball team. Well, almost everything.

On Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Hatten will get to play for the one thing that has eluded him in his illustrious two-year career at St. John’s: a championship.

Thanks to a pair of steals and a layup in the final 16.2 seconds, Hatten once again rallied the Red Storm from a second-half deficit — this time St. John’s was down 10 with 7:22 left — to defeat Texas Tech in the National Invitational Tournament semifinals, 64-63, Tuesday night at the Garden.

The Red Storm will meet Big East rival Georgetown in the NIT championship game Thursday at 8 p.m. Led by Mike Sweeney, who scored a game-high 32 points, the Hoyas easily defeated Minnesota, 88-74, in the other semifinal Tuesday.

OK, so it’s the NIT championship and not the NCAA tournament, but tell that to the Red Storm players and coaches or to Texas Tech, which took the loss as hard as any in the Big 12 conference.

Or even to the partisan crowd of 10,880, many of whom rushed the court after Will Chavis’ desperation heave from well beyond the NBA three-point line caromed harmlessly off glass.

“Tomorrow we wake up and we will be one of six teams that still have a chance to win a national championship, a title,” said St. John's coach Mike Jarvis. “I think it’s incredible and the guys basically have done a fantastic job and deserve everything that is happening.”

After losing to Boston College in the Big East tournament last month, Hatten admitted not knowing too much about the NIT. But after wins over Boston University, Virginia and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Baltimore native is well versed in St. John’s rich history in the 66-year-old tournament.

“I did a lot of research on the NIT history, but what I didn’t know until the third game is that St. John’s is the winningest team in NIT history with five titles,” Hatten said. “St. John’s is going for number six and I guess that’s the motivation for our team.”

Although Hatten provided the heroics in the closing seconds, it was his turnover with 1:39 left that led to Robert Tomaszek’s layup that put Texas Tech (21-13) ahead, 63-62. Hatten came back down the floor, but his floater in the lane was blocked by Kasib Powell (19 points, 5 assists) with 1:07 left.

As if those two possessions weren’t bad enough, Kyle Cuffe was called for a kick ball with five seconds left on the shot clock and the Red Raiders had the ball with 40.5 seconds left in the game and a fresh 35-second shot clock.

But St. John’s (20-13) switched from its 2-3 zone to a man-to-man and Hatten got into the passing lane to intercept Chavis’ errant pass to put the Red Storm in front, 64-63, with 16.5 seconds left. Twelve seconds later Hatten, who had a game-high 24 points and 5 steals, again stole the ball from Chavis before getting fouled by Powell.

“When you have a guy like Marcus Hatten, you don’t know what the hell he’s going to do,” Jarvis said. “The thing that is so great about him is that he gambles like crazy. He could be sitting there with three aces and probably go for the fourth, I guess.”

Added Hatten, who surprisingly missed both free throws: “I was reading the guy with the ball the whole time, I knew he was going to pass it. I turned my head like I wasn’t paying him no mind and he fell for it.”

After leading 31-28 at the half, it looked like Texas Tech had finally pulled away from the resilient Storm on a breakaway dunk by Mike Marshall that gave the Red Raiders their largest lead, 57-47 with 7:19 left.

But St. John’s came right back down the court and Grady Reynolds scored four straight points in the paint to ignite a 15-2 run that put the Red Storm in front 62-59 with 3:32 remaining.

“The play that put us up 10 was a long pass and a dunk shot that got behind the defense and we have a real habit of relaxing,” said Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight. “That little stretch with seven or six minutes to go was the whole difference in the ball game for us.”

Elijah Ingram added 16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals for the Red Storm. Texas Tech, which will face Minnesota in the consolation game Thursday at 5:30 p.m., was led by the Big 12’s leading scorer, Andre Emmett, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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