This year, there was no scuffle. This year, a last-second defensive stop wasn’t needed. This year, in a rematch of last year’s Big East Tournament out-bracket matchup, a game that featured extracurricular fireworks, St. John’s was clearly the superior team.
Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, in the process of running roughshod over Georgetown for the final 20 minutes, the Red Storm looked like a team capable of pulling off some March magic.
After a sloppy opening 20 minutes, the eighth-seeded Johnnies resembled the team that finished the regular season strong after an 11-game losing streak, outclassing ninth-seeded Georgetown, 88-77, to start the Big East Tournament at the Garden, and give Chris Mullin his first victory over old rival and close friend Patrick Ewing in three meetings.
St. John’s (16-16) advanced to meet the top seed, Xavier, Thursday at noon, the third-ranked team in the country it nearly upset twice, losing by a combined 11 points. The Red Storm have won six of their past nine games after starting the league season 0-11, defeating the likes of No. 2 Villanova and No. 5 Duke.
Shamorie Ponds led those upsets, and he looked like his dynamic self after missing the last two games with an abdominal strain. The
sophomore from Brooklyn scored a team-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and fellow sophomore Justin Simon shook off early foul trouble to notch 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Marvin Clark II added 16 points, 14 after halftime, and Tariq Owens had 13 points and seven rebounds.
After a defense-optional first half in which the Hoyas shot 51 percent from the field and led by six, St. John’s got back to basics, and frustrated Georgetown with its quickness, activity and fast hands. The Hoyas managed just 11 points over the first 10:47, and in that time, the Red Storm took control.
An 11-2 run, fueled by Ponds and Simon, gave St. John’s a 67-59 lead with 9:17 left. Georgetown, unable to match St. John’s talent on the perimeter, never got closer than five the rest of the way. Five consecutive points from Clark pushed the lead to double figures with 4:42 remaining.