The St. John’s Red Storm picked up their first Big East Tournament victory since 2011 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, defeating the Georgetown Hoyas, 74-73 to open the 2017 Big East Tournament.
The game, which was back and forth throughout, will likely be remembered longer than your standard 8 vs. 9 Big East Tournament matchup due to an event midway through the second half. As Georgetown’s LJ Peak went up for a shot, St. John’s forward Amar Alibegovic fouled Peak from behind and chaos ensued. First, there was standard jawing and shoving between players, which nearly spilled over into the crowd. As it looked like the officials had the situation under control, Chris Mullin, who had completely crossed midcourt at this point, and Patrick Ewing Jr. started shouting at each other and the officials had to intervene again. Ultimately, Alibegovic was called for a flagrant foul, while Ewing and Mullin were given offsetting technicals.
If you’ve been around the Big East long enough, you know of the rivalry not just between St. John’s and Georgetown, but Mullin and Ewing’s father, Patrick, dating back to their playing days. Mullin made sure his team was aware of the rivalry, as Red Storm guard Malik Ellison noted after the game, “We were very aware of the rivalry. When Coach Mullin was playing they were very physical and very competitive.”
After the skirmish, LJ Peak looked like a completely different player. After sitting for most of the first half due to foul trouble, 22 of Peak’s 24 points came in the second half, with 14 of those 22 coming after he was fouled by Alibegovic, “[It was about] just wanting to win. Just fighting hard, two teams fighting hard and just making plays.”
As Peak excelled in the second half, his teammate Rodney Pryor struggled. After a strong first half, capped off by this ferocious dunk, Pryor recorded just five points in the second half in what may go down as the graduate transfer’s final collegiate game. Afterwards, he reflected on his season with the Hoyas, saying, “It's just a blessing. It's what I signed up for. I knew the Big East was going to be like this. It was just a blessing to be part of it.”
The other big story of the night was New York City’s native son Shamorie Ponds making his Big East Tournament debut. Just hours after being passed over for the Big East Freshman of the Year award in favor of Creighton’s Justin Patton, Ponds played like he had something to prove on the big stage, scoring 17 points and grabbing five rebounds. “It was amazing” Ponds said of the Madison Square Garden environment, “The crowd, everything, was amazing. I think this is the best tournament in the country”.
By the end of the game, the hard feelings between Mullin and Ewing Jr. seemed to have subsided. “I asked if he was gonna beat me up like his dad did. He said no, I love you, so I said OK.” Mullin said.
The Red Storm will have a short turnaround, as they’ll be right back at it Thursday at noon against defending national champion Villanova. For Georgetown, what comes next is a great unknown.