The year was 1986 and the St. John's Red Storm, led by point guard Mark Jackson, marched their way through the Big East Tournament and reached the finals against Dwayne "Pearl" Washington and Syracuse. After dispatching the likes of Seton Hall and Villanova, the "Redmen," as they are were called at the time, had been battle tested. St. John’s and Syracuse came into this game as the top two seeds in tournament, which set the stage for a blockbuster.
As the conference championship game got under way, the second seeded "Orangemen" of Syracuse were able to seize control in the first half and carry that momentum into half time. Cuse came out of the halftime break with an 11-point lead after having one of the greatest offensive halves in the conference's history. They shot an astounding 73 percent as a team from the field, but in the second half everything drastically changed. Syracuse’s big lead was cut down to just two after the St. John’s went on a 15-6 run to open up the second period. The Orangemen had led by as many as 13 point and looked to be on their way to another conference tournament title, but head coach Lou Carnesecca’s team would not go away.
Down the stretch, both teams battled back and forth until the first of two great moments took place for St. John’s. With eight seconds left and his team down by one, Ron Rowan hit a leaning jump shot to put the Redmen ahead. Syracuse coach Jim Boehiem was not able to run a set play in the final seconds because he had used his final timeout with a little over 6 minutes remaining. Instead, Boehiem’s bunch rushed down the floor as time wound down and as they had so many times before, they went to "Pearl" Washington.
With three seconds left, "Pearl" got the ball in stride and drove to the basket looking to win the game and the conference title. St. John’s Walter Berry had other ideas however, as he came out of nowhere from the weak side and blocked the shot at the buzzer to seal the conference championship for the Redmen. The block alone was named one of the Top 10 greatest moments in the Garden’s illustrious history and sent Queens into a state of nirvana.
There was some controversy, however, over whether or not Washington was fouled on the last play of the game, but according to a NY Times report, Washington said of the great defensive play, "He got it; it was a clean block."
The most notable player from this St. John’s team, Jackson, struggled in the beginning of the game as he only scored 2 points in the first half, but finished with 10 points after going 4-7 from the field in the second half.
Syracuse’s Washington, despite the loss, won the Most Valuable Player Award for the Big East Tournament after finishing with 20 points in the title game.
St. John’s and Syracuse both went on to lose in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as Auburn and Navy, respectively, upset the two powerhouse schools.
Most great moments, especially at MSG, have multiple layers to them and in this case we got two great moments for the price of one and it all adds up to a St. John’s conference title, in addition to an all-time classic Garden moment.