NEW YORK — Down a dark tunnel at Madison Square Garden gushed a cold breeze, past stacked silver beer kegs and ushers with earpieces and, finally, onto the basketball court where Hollis Thompson stood.
The chill from a sub-freezing day sent shivers through the arena, but for 20 minutes of basketball Sunday afternoon, the Georgetown junior’s jump shot might have been colder.
Six shots left the right hand of the Big East’s leading 3-point shooter in the first half. Six shots rimmed off.
Then Thompson’s jump shot thawed in the second half, as he led No. 11 Georgetown past St. John’s, 69-49.
Laughter followed the coach’s joke. But it provided a window into the attitude of Hollis Thompson, the 6-foot-8 swingman who raised eyebrows when he declared for the NBA draft last spring after averaging 8.6 points per game, then quickly removed his name.
He is soft-spoken, at least with the media, and not one to throw out entertaining quotes like sophomore point guard Markel Starks or flash the easy smoothness of freshman Otto Porter that defies the forward’s youth.
Instead, Thompson shrugged off the second-half surge where he hit all seven of his field goal attempts and scored a team-high 20 points.
No adjustments came against St. John’s 1-1-3 zone, he insisted. No theory, either, on what, exactly, warmed his shooting.
“I think coming out of halftime you just have to say, ‘Well, you know, none are dropping, but I have confidence in my shooting,’ ” said Hollis Thompson, making 53.2 percent of his field goals and 52.4 percent of his 3-pointers. “If the last ones haven’t dropped, that means I got one coming soon.”
Whatever the reason for Thompson’s surge, St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap understood the result. Filling in as coach Steve Lavin recovers from prostate cancer surgery, Dunlap ticked off the ways Thompson made shots — including five 3-pointers — spread out his defense and allowed Georgetown to take control in the paint.
“I thought Hollis was the difference,” Dunlap said.
That helped Georgetown rebound from a ragged start when it trailed 13-5 in the early minutes, leading John Thompson III to call timeout and tell his young team, “Cherubs, let’s step it up a notch.”
Each time Georgetown needed a basket in the second half, Hollis Thompson found the ball in his hands. This was the opposite of last Monday’s four-point loss to Cincinnati, when, in the second half, he attempted one shot, didn’t score and seemed to disappear from the offense.
But in the arena Sunday quiet enough to converse in a normal voice with the person seated next to you, Thompson hit a 3-pointer, then, lingering around the basket, had an easy one-hand dunk off a steal.