- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2018

NEW YORK — Round three of the Patrick Ewing-Chris Mullin coaching rivalry went a lot like rounds one and two: Most of Wednesday’s game was a close, back-and-forth affair.

Unlike the first two rounds, the third installment went in favor of St. John’s, not Georgetown.

The No. 9 Red Storm survived and advanced in the Big East Tournament’s opening game with a 88-77 win over the No. 8 Hoyas at Madison Square Garden. Barring an invitation to a second-tier postseason tournament, the loss likely ended Ewing’s first season as Georgetown’s coach.

The Hoyas led by six points at halftime, but lost their touch behind the 3-point arc and couldn’t slow down St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds and his teammates’ consistent scoring. Georgetown shot 9-for-15 from deep in the first half but just 3-for-17 from three and 8-for-31 overall in the second half.

Jessie Govan paced Georgetown with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Derrickson added 20 thanks to six 3-pointers.

“It’s hard to beat a good, quality team like St. John’s three straight times. They have a lot of talent on that team,” Ewing said. “They’re very well-coached, and you have to be able to play your A-game if you want to beat them… Jessie and Marcus, based on the stat sheet, they brought their A-game, but no one else really stepped up.”

Ponds, the conference’s leading scorer, led the Red Storm with 26 points. He returned from a two-game absence to recover from an abdominal strain. Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II each added 16.

St. John’s will have a quick turnaround before facing top-seeded Xavier at noon Thursday.

Govan scored all three ways in the first four minutes, hitting a 2-point jumper, two free throws and a 3-pointer. Derrickson added two early 3-pointers. But Ponds opened the game shooting 5-for-6 with 11 of the Red Storm’s first 14 points.

Govan reached double figures just 10 minutes in with a tough hook shot that curled in. Consecutive 3-pointers by Jonathan Mulmore and Antwan Walker capped off a 13-4 Hoyas run that forced St. John’s, losing by 10, to use a timeout.

St. John’s turned it around by driving to the basket and pieced together an 12-1 run while Ponds got a breather on the bench. The Red Storm missed an alley-oop to Tariq Owens at the tail end of that run, but then converted two in a row, one to Justin Simon and the next to Owens. The latter gave St. John’s a 32-31 lead, its first lead of the game.

Georgetown responded via the reliable 3-point conversion. Four of the Hoyas’ last six field goals of the half were threes, courtesy of Derrickson, Trey Dickerson and Govan, and Govan added a bucket-and-foul to the mix. The Hoyas had a 48-42 halftime lead on the back of Govan’s 20 points.

Both teams hit 16 field goals and seven free throws in the first half; all that separated the Hoyas was their nine 3-pointers, while the Red Storm went 3-for-12.

Mullin said the Red Storm switched from double-teaming Derrickson and Govan in the first half to traditional man-to-man in the second. He “tried everything” at halftime to inspire his team’s defense, and a switch flipped.

“I think we really just got more aggressive,” Mullin said. “I thought Marvin (Clark) pressed up on Derrickson more beyond the 3-point line. I thought Tariq (Owens) put more pressure on, and Amar (Alibegovic) did a good job on Govan.”

Ewing, meanwhile, said he didn’t think the Red Storm did much differently in the second half to defend the long ball.

“We just got too happy with it. We stuck with it too much,” Ewing said. “If you look at our guys, Marcus took 11. He took 12 (total) shots and 11 of his shots were threes. That’s not good for us. He has to be able to score in the post along with shooting his threes.”

St. John’s also came out hotter offensively in the second half, but Georgetown always looked back to Govan. On one early-half play, Jamorko Pickett missed a shot, got his own rebound by tipping it a few times volleyball-style and finally fed it to Govan for a short jumper.

A 7-0 run put the Red Storm back up by two, and after about six minutes of lead changes, St. John’s finally took control with another eight straight points. Owens blocked a Mulmore layup and Simon took the rebound the length of the court for a bucket-and-foul, electrifying the largely New Yorker crowd.

Down 67-59, Georgetown came back to life with Derrickson’s sixth 3-pointer of the night. But soon after, Simon stole a Hoya inbound pass under their own basket and fed it up to Ponds for a layup.

Georgetown trailed by as few as five points but lost its grasp on the game in the final five minutes. Clark powered the Red Storm by scoring 11 of his 16 total points in the second.

St. John’s also outscored Georgetown 40-18 in the paint. The Hoyas’ total was that low partly because many of Govan’s 28 points came off jumpers around the floor.

“I don’t think it was their bigs. I think we just couldn’t stop the drive,” Govan said. “Their guards were getting into the paint, and I wasn’t altering enough shots. They were just blowing right by us. It’s like nobody was down there. They were getting wide-open layups, pretty much, and and-ones.”

It was the first season Ewing sparred with Mullin, his old college and NBA foe, as college coaches. In January, Georgetown swept the regular season series with the Red Storm. The Hoyas won 69-66 at MSG and 93-89 in double overtime at Capital One Arena.

Those games were part of an 11-game losing streak St. John’s brushed off with consecutive, bizarre upsets of Duke and Villanova, two top-five teams in the country. The Red Storm will see if they have any upset magic left in them when they face Xavier Thursday. St. John’s can only make the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big East.

This marks the second year Georgetown lost to St. John’s in the first round of the Big East Tournament. In 2017, the seeds were flipped, and the No. 9 Hoyas lost 74-73.

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