Once again, St. John’s will return to the Big East Tournament quarterfinals--thanks to an aspect of the game that has been consistent all-season: defense.
After getting knocked around from beyond the arc and Georgetown’s frontcourt tandem of Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson for the first 20 minutes of the game, the Red Storm stepped up their play defensively in the second half. The Hoyas could not answer the Johnnies’ renewed effort on defense in the second half, which also sparked them offensively, as St. John’s won 88-77.
”They had too many open looks, walk up threes,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said. “We were fortunate to only be down six at the half. Then we started stepping it up on defense, and then on offense.”
Georgetown had its way early, especially from long range. The Hoyas were 9-for-15 from three-point range, helping them build a 48-42 lead at the break. While St. John’s hung in there to keep it competitive, it did not have the solution to stop a red-hot Derrickson, who led the Georgetown three-point barrage.
However, after halftime, the Hoyas couldn’t get into the same rhythm as they did in the first half. The Red Storm limited them to just 29 points over the final 20 minutes, as the Hoyas were a lackluster 8-of-31 overall (25.8 percent) and 3-of-17 from deep (17.6 percent).
”I think we really just got more aggressive,” Mullin said. “I thought Marvin pressed up on Derrickson more beyond the three-point line. I thought Tariq put more pressure on, and Marvin did a good job on Govan. They were just getting easy looks.”
He continued: “At halftime I tried everything--we played zone and full-court press and we just weren’t playing defense. They flipped the switch at halftime and did a much better job.”
After a back-and-forth start to the second half, St. John’s went on a 11-2 run sparked by a Justin Simon and-one to take a 67-59 lead, with 9:16 remaining.
A couple of baskets allowed Georgetown to trim the St. John’s lead to as low as five, before the Red Storm pulled away.
Shamorie Ponds led the Red Storm with 26 points off of 9-of-14 shooting. When his team wasn’t in a rhythm early, he got them going. It was a strong first game back, since missing the last two games due to an abdominal strain.
”Right before the game, I was feeling good,” Ponds said. “It didn’t give me no pain or anything. I wasn’t paying no mind to it. I played through it.”
The energy was infectious, especially in the second half. Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II had 16 points each. Tariq Owens added 13 points and seven rebounds before fouling out late in the game. Bashir Ahmed had 10 points and six rebounds.
As for the Hoyas, Govan had 28 points and 11 rebounds. Derrickson contributed 20 points and eight rebounds, including a 6-of-11 performance from long range.
”They’re very well coached, and you have to be able to play your A-game if you want to beat them,” Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing said. “And as you see in the stat sheet, we didn’t bring our A-game. Jessie and Marcus...they brought their A-game, but no one else really stepped up. We need--for us to beat that team--everyone has to pull their load, and we didn’t get that done tonight.
With the loss, Georgetown drops its fifth-straight game of the season, falling to a 15-15 record overall. However, if the team is given a NIT invitation, Ewing says the Hoyas would participate.
As for the Red Storm, it improves to a 16-16 record. St. John’s advances to the Big East Tournament quarterfinal, once again, to face the top-seeded team in the conference--the Xavier Musketeers.
”Except for a couple of games, each and every game we showed that we can compete with anybody in the country,” Ponds said. “Our mindset going into the Big East Tournament was one game at a time. We know we can do it.”