DAYTON, Ohio -- After a quick exit from the Big Eas tournament, several St. John's players were happy to be done with those physical league battles.
"It's good to get away," St. John's forward Billy Singleton said. "You need a break from the teams that know your patterns and personalities."
How happy were the Redmen? Enough to put together one of their finest end-to-end performances this season in eliminating Texas, 84-76, in a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament Midwest Regional second-round game yesterday.
In winning, St. John's (22-8) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985, when the Redmen were defeated by Georgetown in the Final Four semifinals. The Longhorns (23-9) made the final eight a year ago.
"Our goal is to keep this going as long as possible," said forward Malik Sealy (19 points), one of five St. John's players in double figures. "Sometimes, it helps to go up against new opponents."
The Redmen, known more for their deliberate play, went to the running game against the Texas press in the first half and shot 71.4 percent in taking a 45-36 halftime lead. In the final 20 minutes, St. John's used its patient offense to keep Texas from pulling closer than seven.
"Their first half was unbelievable, and they threw in everything but the chairs," Longhorns coach Tom Penders said. "At the end, it was wise the way they spread the floor. They are a sound team, and they rarely beat themselves. They're in a great rhythm right now."
Fearing a disadvantage on the front line, Penders decided to let whoever was defending Redmen guard Chucky Sproling to sag off on the St. John's big men. The result: Sproling, a 5.8-per-game scorer this season, hit all six field-goal attempts on his way to 14 points.
"I hit the first couple of shots and felt good from then on," Sproling said. "I guess they lay off me because they figure I can't score."
St. John's had its biggest lead of the game, 65-51, after Singleton (career-high 21 points) scored on a layup with 9 minutes, 29 seconds left. Texas guard Joey Wright scored 12 of his game-high 32 in the final six minutes, but it wasn't enough to overcome St. John's. The Redmen's .608 field-goal percentage was their second-best shooting performance of the season.
"We've had some droughts in the past, so the fact that we combined offense with defense was a plus," St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca said. "We played with a lot of poise. Now, we get to practice for another week."
Texas got just 17 points from its starting front line of Benford Williams (four), Locksley Collie (six) and Guillermo Myers (seven). Collie, who averaged 15.6 points, played just 20 minutes.
"He just never got in the flow," Penders said. "Dexter Cambridge [17 points] came in for him and really kept us in the game. But they had some big guys -- about as big as anybody we've faced this year."
The loss by Texas dropped Penders, whose past teams include Fordham and Rhode Island, to 0-11 against Carnesecca-coached teams.
"This loss hurts because it's in the tournament, but coaches don't beat coaches," Penders said. "Players beat players. St. John's was just better than us today."
St. John's will face Ohio State on Friday in Pontiac, Mich. The Buckeyes won't have the benefit of playing before their home crowd, as they did at University of Dayton Arena.
"They are very consistent and big on the inside," Singleton said.