St. John's finally found a way to beat Miami in their third meeting of the season, a game worthy of a Roman numeral usually reserved for heavyweight fights or movie sequels.
The Red Storm won 62-59 Friday night to earn a chance at its first Big East title since 1986.
"This game should have been in the old Madison Square Garden. It reminded me of a Rocky Marciano fight," St. John's coach Mike Jarvis said. "You punch each other for 15 rounds and they guy standing at the end wins. We were the last standing."
They were because Erick Barkley, who had hit a huge 3-pointer with 2:03 left, stole the ball from Johnny Hemsley with five seconds remaining and the Red Storm leading 61-59.
"I got the ball on a fluke pass and tried to make a move past Erick and he made a great player," Hemsley said. "It's a play that great players make and he's a good player and they're a good team."
Barkley sprinted away after the steal and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left. He made the first free throw and Hemsley's three-quarter court heave after the second bounced off the backboard.
Barkley, a freshman point guard, was asked what he was thinking during the last play.
"I just wanted the time to run out without anybody touching me," he said.
Their first victory this season in five games against Top Ten teams let the third-seeded and 10th-ranked Red Storm advance to Saturday night's conference tournament championship game against top-seeded and third-ranked Connecticut.
"Just another team ranked ahead of us," Barkley said of the Huskies, who beat St. John's 78-74 in their only meeting this season.
The second-seeded and ninth-ranked Hurricanes had beaten the Red Storm twice in the regular season and were making their first appearance in the conference semifinals.
St. John'(25-7) seemed to have a rather ugly game in hand when Barkley's two free throws with 4:38 left gave the Red Storm a 56-46 lead.
But just as they had all season, the Hurricanes (22-6) turned up the defense and a blocked shot by Tim James and a steal by Vernon Jennings keyed an 8-0 run over the next 1:38 to get them within 56-54.
| St. John's blocked Miami from advancing Friday. (AP)|
"I was so proud of our kids because we put ourselves back in a position where we had a chance to win the game," Miami coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Barkley buried the 3-pointer with 2:03 left to make it 59-54, but Miami twice found a way to get within two points, the last time at 61-59 with 16 seconds to play on a basket by James.
Miami fouled Bootsy Thornton on the inbounds and he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 15 seconds left. Miami brought the ball down for a chance at the win but Jennings slipped just over midcourt and fell. He managed to get the ball to Hemsley but Barkley made the steal.
The Hurricanes didn't have any timeouts left which made Jennings' time on the floor seem even longer than it was.
"I was thinking of calling a timeout but I was also thinking of Chris Webber," he said, referring to the Michigan player's last-second gaffe in the 1993 national championship game against North Carolina.
Artest finished with 18 points, while Lavor Postell added 17 and Thornton had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Barkley, who played all 40 minutes, had nine points and five assists.
"Erick did a great job defensively and a tremendous job of running the team," said Hamilton, who also credited St. John's for the way it controlled the tempo of the game that was tied at halftime. "They're tough-minded kids. I was impressed with the way they stayed with their game plan. Their discipline is to their credit. A team that averaged 80 points scored 26 in the first half and that's to their credit."
James had 25 points for Miami and Hemsley had 20 as they scored all but 14 of their team's points.
"They wanted this real bad," James said of St. John's. "But they were scared so I don't know what they're so happy about."
Connecticut, the defending champion and finalist four of the last five years, beat fourth-seeded Syracuse 71-50 in the semifinals.
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