In the end, Stanford coach Mike Montgomery turned out to be right.
Montgomery warned the No. 3 Cardinal that its superior size wouldn't necessarily scare off No. 23 St. John's. Stanford needed a comeback in the last six minutes to shake off the stubborn Red Storm 55-53 in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT Wednesday night.
Arthur Lee cooly dropped in a pair of free throws with 11.8 seconds left for the winning points and then had to be helped off the court, doubled over in pain, as Stanford (4-0) survived the scare.
Friday's final will pit Stanford against North Carolina, which defeated Purdue 54-47 in Wednesday's other semifinal.
"It was sort of what we expected from St. John's," Montgomery said. "They're good players. They gave us a different look and came after our perimeter."
Stanford trailed by 10 points, 48-38, with 6:07 left before the Cardinal, responding to cue cards held up on the bench, went on a 14-3 run to take a 52-51 lead with 1:41 to play. Lee and Peter Sauer nailed big 3-pointers in the run.
"We played better defense late and we shot better late," Montgomery said. "That's why we won, even though it was late."
St. John's freshman guard Erick Barkley missed a long 3-pointer and then threw the ball away on consecutive possessions. Then, with 38.6 seconds left, Barkley, trying for a steal, collided with Sauer and was knocked unconscious. He lay on the floor for several minutes before being helped first to the bench and then to the dressing room.
"Erick is doing fine," St. John's coach Mike Jarvis said. "He got a shot to the temple when he ran into a good and legal screen."
| The Red Storm's Ron Artest shoots for two of his 15 points. (AP) |
After Kris Weems made one of two free throws for a 53-51 lead, Ron Artest tied it for St. John's with 14.9 seconds left.
Artest, who had a chance for a three-point play, missed the fou shot. Stanford controlled the rebound, but Artest broke up a pass to Lee and in doing so, crashed into him as the two players chased the loose ball.
The Stanford guard was stunned for a moment but then went to the foul line and dropped in the winning free throws for the Cardinal.
Then, after St. John's (3-1) missed a last chance to tie, Lee doubled over, holding his right side and had to be helped into the locker room.
"Lee got a hip pointer before the fouls," Montgomery said. "He hit something hard. He'll be OK."
Stanford's size was key. The Cardinal outrebounded St. John's 41-28. Still, St. John's came away encouraged. "We proved we could play with a big front line," Artest said.
Mark Madsen led Stanford with 15 points while Tim Young and Lee each had 10. Artest led St. John's with 15.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved