TUCSON, Arizona (Ticker) -- By traveling west, St. John's hoped to escape the controversy that has followed it for the past six weeks. Instead, what the Red Storm got was the scare of a lifetime.
St. John's avoided becoming just the fourth No. 2 seed to be beaten by a No. 15 as Lavor Postell's three-point play with 10.9 seconds to play eliminated Northern Arizona, 61-56, in a dramatic West Region first-round contest.
"We're grateful that we're advancing and I'm sure you'll see a much different team on Saturday," St. John's coach Mike Jarvis said.
Following Postell's dramatics, the Lumberjacks had a chance to tie. They worked the ball to Ross Land -- the best 3-point shooter in the country -- who was stripped by Red Storm point guard Erick Barkley with 2.6 seconds left.
"The game plan was to 'X' all the perimeter screens and that's what me and Reggie (Jessie) did," said Barkley. "(Land) put the ball in my face and I had no choice." Barkley made the first of two free throws moments later and Bootsy Thornton's follow on the missed second attempt accounted for the final margin.
Ironically, it is Barkley that has been in the middle of the Red Storm's problems. He has been suspended twice this season for violations of the NCAA rules and earlier in the week missed practice as he and Postell were questioned by the governing body.
"I think everyone on the team is veterans and we are used to being in that situation because we give up a lot of leads," Barkley said of the frantic final moments. "We regrouped and were able to get a big basket by Lavor." Thornton collected 20 points and seven rebounds for the Red Storm (25-7), who will play Gonzaga in the second round on Sunday.
"We had a lot of tough games all year," Thornton said. "Through that we just kind of pulled this game out." Northern Arizona (20-11) was trying to become the second Big Sky Conference member in as many seasons to pull a major upset. Weber State shocked North Carolina in the first round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse (1991), Arizona (1993) and South Carolina (1997) are the only No. 2 seeds to lose a first-round game, falling to Richmond, Santa Clara and Coppin State, respectively.
The Lumberjacks appeared on the verge of joining that list of "Davids" after they rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to take a 56-55 lead on Cory Schwab's 3-pointer from the left corner with 29 seconds left.
With fouls to give, Northern Arizona 7-foot center Dan McClintock corraled Thornton with 13 seconds to play, giving the Red Storm the ball out of bounds.
But Postell took the ball and leaned into a shot in the lane was he was fouled by Land, who was trying to foul him before the shot. Postell, who had struggled to find open shots all night, hit the ensuing foul shot for a two-point Red Storm lead.
"At the end, with 11 seconds left, I finally did something right and it just happened to be the game-winner," Postell said.
Postell scored 12 points and Anthony Glover added 10 for St. John's, which was just 3-of-13 from 3-point range but still managed to connect on 48 percent (26-of-54) of its shots.
The Lumberjacks, who received 18 points and eight rebounds from McClintock, held a 31-28 advantage on the boards but shot just 44 percent (24-of-54) and was 7-of-23 from beyond the arc.
The teams combined for just 13 free throws and 17 turnovers in a crisply played and entertaining game.
St. John's led 28-25 at halftime and used an 11-5 burst to open a 45-36 lead on Barkley's steal and layup with just under 13 minutes remaining. Barkley and Postell combined for all of the Red Storm points during the run.
But Northern Arizona used the 3-point shot to climb back into the gme. Land and Adam Lopez hit back-to-back shots from behind the arc to pull the Lumberjacks within 47-44 with 7:44 to go. Land's 3-pointer with 3:35 to play cut the deficit to 53-51.
After two timeouts, Billy Hix, who collected 14 points and 12 rebounds, had a layup that tied it with 1:23 left. Jessie's lane jumper with 55 seconds to play put the Red Storm back on top.