Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics.
By David Cordova
When the conference tournament rolls around, it’s time for teams to forget everything that happened earlier in the season. The only thing that matters now, is surviving and advancing.
St. John’s pretty much got that message down pact. After a rollercoaster regular season that saw them going 4-14 in Big East play, it was time for them to regroup for the first round of the Big East Tournament and either put on or go home. They chose the first option.
And the first option worked well against their longtime rivals, Georgetown. Last season, the Red Storm played the Hoyas in the exact same game, winning 74-73. This season, was a different story, as Georgetown beat them in the regular season twice, the first time being in Madison Square Garden in a close game, 69-66, on January 9th. Then in the rematch on January 20th at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., the game would go into double-overtime, with the Hoyas holding on to win, 93-89.
This game would have a different outcome.
St. John’s 88, Georgetown 77
The beginning of the game started out with the Hoyas taking out a 10-2 lead with 16:01, based on the exploits of junior center Jessie Govan (28 points and 11 rebounds). But then the Red Storm would step their game up behind the play of sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds (26 points), as he scored six straight points to bring them within two, 15-13, with 12:18 to go in the half.
Although the game stayed close, St. John’s took their first lead of the game, with 3:40 to go in the half, off of a dunk from junior forward Tariq Owens, as the Red Storm led, 32-31. But then Georgetown, still getting contributions from Govan and junior forward Marcus Derrickson (20 points and eight rebounds), as they would go into the half, leading by six, 48-42.
“All the games have been really close games, and ironically or not, they really shot the three ball against us and they had nine at halftime. I thought our defense was much better in the second half. I thought the first half, they got too many open looks too many walk-in 3s. No resistance. I thought we were fortunate to be only down six at halftime. And I thought our defense picked up in the second half and offensively we kind of got moving. And, like I said, Justin and Shamorie really dictated the flow of the game.” said St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin.
In the first half, the Red Storm struggled from three-point range, shooting 25%, and Georgetown obliterated them from that area, by shooting 60%. Most of those shots were made by Derrickson and one of the main things that hurt St. John’s in the first half was the shooting display of both Govan and Derrickson.
“Yeah, both he and Govan, we started off doubling them, and then it wasn’t working too well. We were not aggressive on our rotation. So we went away from it. So the first half, like I said, they got whatever they wanted. We kind of went back to just traditional straight up man-to-man, put the pressure on our guys to guard their guy and they did so.” said Mullin.
In the second half, St. John’s went on a 16-9 run to take a 58-57 lead, with 11:54 to go after a layup by Justin Simon (16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists). After that, they would never relinquish their lead, as they would even lead by eleven points within the last two minutes of the game, which would end up being their margin of victory.
“It’s very disappointing. But you know, it’s hard to beat a good, quality team as St. John’s three straight times. You know, they have a lot of talent on their team. They’re very well-coached. And you have to be able to play your A game if you want to beat them.” said Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing on the game. “And as you see in the stat sheet, we didn’t bring our A game. You know, Jessie and Marcus, they played, based on their stat sheet, they brought their A game, but no one else really stepped up. And we need, for us to beat that team, everyone has to pull their load and we didn’t get that done tonight.”
As far as St. John’s, they stepped up their defensive intensity in the second half, which brought them the victory. And so, they live to fight another day. That is, in the quarterfinals against none other than Xavier, this year’s Big East regular-season champions and a team that is ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll.
“I just told them the biggest thing right now is to get some rest. Eat a good meal. Get some rest. When you’re playing a team for the third time there’s less preparation you have to do, everyone knows the personnel.” says Mullin about tomorrow’s game, “We know what kind of game either team’s going to play. Everyone knows each other’s inside and out personnel, game plans and things like that. Xavier is one of the most physical teams in the league offensively and defensively. We’ll get on that a little bit tonight and do a little quick little film in the morning and be ready to go.”