(A meeting of head coaches Chris Mullin of St. John’s and Patrick Ewing of Georgetown – Photo by Jason Schott)
Georgetown outlasted St. John’s 69-66 on Tuesday night in a competitive game that was reminiscent of the battles their two coaches, Chris Mullin of St. John’s and Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, had in their playing days for their alma maters.
For Ewing, it was emotional to get a win at Madison Square Garden after starring here for 15 years for the Knicks.
“It feels good,” said Ewing. “As you know I have had a lot of great memories here. I’ve had ups and downs and a lot of good and bad memories against that guy [Chris Mullin]. It was good to be back and the game was just like the old times, it was a knock down drag up fight. It was one of those ugly games, but I was just happy that we got the win. The guys fought hard, we made some mistakes, but we played hard. Especially the way that we played against Creighton this was a great way to bounce back. They did all the things they needed to do to get the win.”
Ewing and Mullin chatted before the game and caught each other’s eye throughout the game, including when Ewing started laughing at something Mullin said with a couple minutes left.
Ewing said of their interactions, “Chris and I have developed a great friendship over the years and before the game I was joking with him because I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a tie. He told me he wore it in my honor so that was his sweater. At the end of the game, I told him it was a tough call.”
Ewing was referring to the fact that Marvin Clark II was called for a reach-in foul on Jonathan Mulmore with 10 seconds left and St. John’s trailing 67-66 at the time.
Mulmore made both free throws to make it a three-point game, 69-66, and St. John’s, without a timeout, still had 10.8 seconds to go to the other end and tie the game.
Shamorie Ponds got off a good look from the left side with around four seconds left, and Justin Simon got the rebound, dribbled it to the corner, and as he looked for a teammate to pass it to, time expired.
This was a back-and-forth game that was tied at 31 at the half, and like most games in this tough stretch for St. John’s, they were dominated in the second half.
After Marvin Clark II got a layup with 18:03 left to make it 37-35 Red Storm, Georgetown went on a 6-0 run capped by a Jahvon Blair three-pointer to give them a 41-37 edge at the 15:49 mark.
It stayed that way for over four minutes, when Simon got a layup at the 11:24 mark, and that ended a nearly seven-minute scoreless streak for St. John’s.
Georgetown opened up a seven-point lead, 54-47, on a Jagan Mosley layup with 5:02 left, and St. John’s responded with a 10-3 run to tie it a 57 on a dunk by Simon at the 3:05 mark that sent the Garden crowd of 9,406 into a frenzy.
Even thought Georgetown seemed to take command again with a 5-0 run, St. John’s wasn’t done, and a Simon layup tied it at 64 with 50 seconds left.
On Georgetown’s ensuing possession, it was center Jessie Govan who stepped up for their team led by a former 7-foot center who starred for the Knicks.
Govan led the way for the Hoyas with 18 points (7-19 shooting), and it was his lone three-pointer of the night from just above the key that gave them a 67-64 lead with 25 seconds left that they would not relinquish.
Ewing said of Govan’s night, “Jessie made a tough shot for us, 18 points, 13 rebounds, I’ve been riding him a lot. I’m trying to get the best out of him and I told him this is the time of the year if he wants to try to get to the next level. These are the times he has to play at his best and he did in the second half. They were trying to do things to frustrate him. He got some offensive rebounds, put-backs, he got to the free throw line and that was a big three he made.”
Ewing said of playing St. John’s, “I think it’s a great rivalry. Both teams, both schools have a rich tradition. Before myself and Chris came, there was Louis [Carnesecca] and Coach [John] Thompson [III]. You had the sweater game. Then, you had myself and Chris playing against each other in BIG EAST tournaments and regular season games. And, now it’s gone full circle. Now, you have both of us coaching against each other. So. I think it’s what dreams are made of. You have two guys who grew up, I’m from Jamaica and he’s from Brooklyn and we both play a sport we love, battled each other, became friends, and won two gold medals together. Now, we’re battling each other again.”
Mullin said of the game and coaching against Ewing, “It wasn’t the most artistic game, but I do think both teams played hard. That’s a start for both of us. As far as execution, layups and stuff like that, it was a pretty sloppy game, but I think overall the effort was there. If you look at the stats, it was basically a one-possession game after all is said and done. Patrick and I have a long relationship, and I have a lot of respect for him. It’s such a surreal and unique circumstance. I told someone yesterday that there was 100% chance that I never would have been here and coaching St. John’s against Patrick Ewing coaching Georgetown. We’ve known each other for so long and been through so many things, so it was just another thing that we are doing. I think we both understand that when the game starts, the game starts. We are just both trying to win. That’s all it’s about.”
St. John’s falls to 0-5 in Big East play, and it doesn’t get any easier as defending Big East champion and 2016 National Champion Villanova pays a visit to The Garden on Saturday night.
Mullin said of the disappointing start for his team, which came into the season with expectations, “I’m neither surprised nor upset. I’m not concerned about predictions and expectations. Of those five games, we had those two duds at home. With those other three, if we can take those defensive efforts and match it with some offensive execution, we are going to be okay. That’s exactly what I told my team. The only thing that’s going to distract us or keep us down is a negative mindset. If you look at tonight, we forced 22 turnovers, had 10 blocks, and 13 steals. That’s getting after it. We have to be a little less careless with the ball and finish some shots. … We’re not going to try and undo what has gone on, but we just have to keep competing and keep working hard. Things will turn for us.”
On where the program is currently at in Mullin’s third year at the helm, he said, “There’s been a lot of improvements, no question. Into the third year, that process continues. You can’t really map it out exactly because it’s not always a straight line up. You’re going to hit some peaks and valleys, and that’s the important part. Everyone has an idea of how they want it to go, but that timeline is always variable. If you maintain the things that we think are the right thing to do on a daily basis, it will turn.”
Georgetown won this game despite shooting just 33.3 percent, or 20-60, from the floor, and committing 22 turnovers. They made up for it with 19 offensive rebounds, compared to just 10 for St. John’s.
St. John’s tough shooting performance continued, as they shot just 23-61, or 37.7 percent, overall.
Shamorie Ponds, who has battled injury early in this season and went back to the locker room at one point during this one, shot just 5-15, including 0-3 from behind the arc, and finished with 17 points, along with six assists, four steals, three rebounds, and two turnovers.
St. John’s has been without their other star Marcus LoVett for ten games with a knee injury, and Mullin said of his progress, “He’s probably going to get on the floor tomorrow. He’s been doing his workouts with strength and conditioning, but we’ll see. He’s been working on that knee, and we will see how it goes. I’m planning to get him on the court tomorrow.”
One problem in Big East play for St. John’s has been closing out games and Mullin said of them taking the next step in that regard, “Again, the games we’ve played are all on defense, and I thought our defense was good again tonight. I just think that we’re a little loose or careless with the ball. We just have to tighten that up. It’s hard to see live, but I think there were some layups, loose balls, and we’d make some good stops but we gave up 19 offensive rebounds. You’re putting in a lot of effort, but not getting the ball back. We have to get those rebounds. We had a few breaks early in the first half, but didn’t convert. … I told them after the game that they are doing the work. They are doing the hard stuff. Now we have to clean up the execution.”