Posted by Jeff BorzelloIt might have taken his worst performance since January to get the proper attention, but Dwight Hardy is finally shedding the “underrated” label at the right time.
Hardy struggled from the field for 39 minutes, but made one of the most impressive shots of the year – a twisting reverse lay-up along the baseline – to lead St. John’s to a 60-59 victory over Pittsburgh.
The Red Storm essentially locked up an NCAA Tournament bid and could be in position for a top-five seed come Selection Sunday. They have six top-25 wins, tied for the most in the country, and are tied for third-place in the Big East. Since January 3, St. John’s has picked up wins at home over Georgetown, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Duke and now Pittsburgh.
Hardy has been a key component in the recent winning ways, averaging 24.4 points in his last seven games, including two games of at least 32 points. Interestingly, he only shot 4-for-10 from the field today against Pittsburgh, adding only one rebound and not dishing out any assists.
Despite the subpar – for him, at least – stat line, Hardy captivated the nation’s attention with his play down the stretch. He hit the game-tying free throws and then the unbelievable game-winning shot.
The Bronx native typifies this season’s version of St. John’s – tough, blue-collar, relentless at both ends of the floor. Most of them were written off after last season, while head coach Steve Lavin and next season’s recruits received more attention than them heading into the campaign.
The Big East has several viable candidates for Big East Player of the Year, namely UConn’s Kemba Walker, Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough and Georgetown’s Austin Freeman. Hardy needs to be in that conversation.
He ranks in the top five of the Big East in scoring and is one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. Hardy has single-handedly willed the Red Storm to a couple of wins, including today’s victory over Pittsburgh.
He struggled in the first half, but posted 13 points after halftime, including five in the final 48 seconds. Hardy’s deep range and ability to beat defenders off the dribble make him nearly impossible to stop late in the game, proving to be one of the most clutch players in the country.
Today’s performance might have topped the rest, though, as it likely sent St. John’s into the NCAA Tournament. With an RPI that will likely rise into the top-15 after the win, as well as the six top-25 victories, it will be impossible to keep the Red Storm out of the field.
Today’s performance also might have sent Hardy into the Big East Player of the year discussion – Lavin said after the game that he should be the runaway winner.
We won’t go that far, but he certainly isn’t underrated anymore. It’s just a shame it took the nation so long to realize it.
Photo: US Presswire