- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

With 14 games left in Georgetown’s season, it’s too early to call tonight’s game against struggling St. John’s at MCI Center a must-win, but it does fall into the “important” category.

The Hoyas don’t want a repeat of last season, when they clinched a Big East tournament spot in the next-to-last game of the regular season. A win against the Red Storm can go a long way toward avoiding that.

Struggling might be too soft a word to describe St. John’s (4-10, 0-4 Big East), which comes to town at the perfect time for the Hoyas (10-3, 1-3). Georgetown has lost three in a row, but a victory would keep it above the fray at the bottom of the Big East standings. A loss would put the Hoyas in danger again this year.

“We have to get the teams that we’re capable of beating,” Georgetown senior guard Gerald Riley said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to wait like we did last year and get a couple of wins to close out the season.”

Georgetown never has failed to qualify for the Big East tournament in the league’s 25 years. The Hoyas came perilously close last season but persevered with a dramatic 69-67 win at West Virginia on March3.

The Hoyas are tied with Rutgers and West Virginia near the bottom of the conference’s standings, one game ahead of the winless Red Storm. Twelve Big East teams qualify for the tournament, and tonight’s game could help decide which two teams get left out.

“It’s still St. John’s-Georgetown. It’s always been that way, and that’s the way we have to look at it,” Hoyas coach Craig Esherick said. “We have to prepare in relation to St. John’s, but we can’t look at their record and think that these guys are not going to be ready to play, because they are going to be ready to play.”

With No. 1 Duke coming to town Saturday to face the Hoyas, it could be easy to overlook St. John’s, though Georgetown has lost seven consecutive times in the series. That’s especially true considering the disarray in the St. John’s program after coach Mike Jarvis was fired six games into the season Dec.19.

“We can’t look past anybody the rest of the season,” Esherick said. “We’ve had one day off since Connecticut [on Wednesday], and nobody has mentioned Duke. I’m not worried about our guys. [St. John’s] is the team that we lost to in the championship game of the NIT also.”

Despite losing 94-70 to then-No.1 Connecticut, several good things came out of that game. Georgetown’s turnovers were low (13), its shooting was decent (39.4 percent) and its 14 offensive rebounds were encouraging. Plus, the scoring was balanced, with point guard Ashanti Cook finishing with 18 points, followed by forward Brandon Bowman and Riley with 17 and center Courtland Freeman with 10.

And St. John’s isn’t UConn. For the first time in school history, the Red Storm have lost their first four Big East games, though two of the losses were by less than 10 points.

“We know they are coming in thinking that they can beat us, and we are going to come in thinking that we can beat them,” Freeman said. “We’re not coming in sleeping on them at all because we definitely know that they have a very good and capable team, so we are going to make sure that we are focused and ready to play.”

Note — Former Georgetown center Patrick Ewing was a unanimous selection to the Big East’s silver anniversary team named last night by a panel of media and former league coaches. Ewing, a three-time All-American, was joined by Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman, St. John’s forward Chris Mullin, Syracuse guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington and Connecticut guard Ray Allen.

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