Stephenson, the Prodigal Son Returns To Garden and Loses

Published on: 14th January, 2010


Lance and Cronin
Stephenson and Cronin At Post-Game Press Conference  | read this item

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New York – Tonight was supposed to be one of the big events of this college basketball season, particularly since it was taking place in the basketball cathedral of Madison Square Garden. It was a happening, not so much because it was St. Johns against Cincinnati in another battle of Big East teams who can be viewed as either up-and-coming or also-rans, but because it was the return of New York’s prodigal son, Lance Stephenson to the site of the greatest triumphs of his career as a high school phenom in Brooklyn.

It turned out to be dud, for Stephenson as well as for his Cincinnati Bearcats.

In a game marked turnovers, mental mistakes, poor shooting, and interesting coaching decisions, St. Johns won the game, 52-50, after being down three (50-47) with just 14 seconds left in the game. The Red Storm didn’t so much as win it as Cincinnati just gave the game away on pitiful turnovers and decision-making. Right in the middle of those poor decisions was Stephenson, who made the biggest blunder of all leading directly to St. Johns’ victory.

Yancy Gates, the Bearcat 6-9 center had just scored a bucket with 1:28 to go in the game to make it 50-47 in Cincy’s favor when St. Johns coach Norm Roberts called a timeout with 73 seconds left. The Johnnies, coming out of a timeout, were unable to get off a good shot and turned the ball over, their 12th give back of the game.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin then took a timeout with the clock showing just 40 ticks from a victory to set up how the Bearcats would wind down the time and get out of New York with a good road win. 

It didn’t quite work out that way for Mick and the boys.

They did use a lot of the remaining time and got off a forced shot by Dion Dixon, who had it blocked by St. Johns guard, Paris Horne. The ball was rebounded by Justin Brownlee of the Red Storm who was then fouled by Dixon, no doubt feeling miserable by his shot getting blocked but clearly not thinking straight. St. Johns got to stop the clock and put a point on the board as Brownlee missed the first and made the second foul shot.

“We ran a play out of the timeout to get Lance the ball off the double screen,” said Cronin. “We looked him off, actually, we weren’t looking for him and by the time we came back to him, he wasn’t open. Still, in the situation, we are up two with 10 seconds to play, we had a timeout and out best in-bounder (Rashad Bishop) and we had out senior captains on screen and roll back. His decision to go long was bad and the decision to throw the ball was even worse. It is not even a play we practice. Mental breakdowns, young kids, they don’t mean to do it. It was a tough loss because wins are so hard to come by.”

At this point, Bearcat forward Rashad Bishop had a brain lapse when he took the ball out and threw the in-bounds pass directly into the hands of the Johnnies’ Dwight Hardy. Then, Bishop had the temerity to top off his blunder by fouling Hardy, giving him two free throws with just :08 left in the game. Hardy hit both shots, tying the game at 50. 

Then came the biggest mistake of the game and probably, of Stephenson’s college career. The Lincoln High School kid took the ball out under the St. Johns basket and finding no one open nearby, heaved the ball far down the court towards his teammate, Bishop. Like a rookie quarterback who doesn’t see the defensive back cutting in front of his downfield pass, Hardy, who led the Johnnies with 15 points, intercepted the long heave and made his way towards the St. Johns basket with seven seconds left. He was fouled by Dixon, who had a very rough last minute of the game. Hardy hit both shots, putting St. Johns up 52-50. And that’s where it ended when Cincinnati couldn’t get off a decent shot to tie or win it.

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