Argh. Just three days after pulling out a big road upset to kick off Big East play, Georgetown seemed poised to continue its recent strong play by knocking off St. John’s at home Saturday. The Hoyas emerged from a see-saw second half to claim a 4-point lead with 17 seconds remaining. But a late turnover, a botched final possession, and a flat-footed start to overtime all doomed Georgetown, which ultimately fell, 97-94.
Georgetown came out of the gates strong today. After a few back-and-forth possessions, the Red Storm went cold, and the Hoyas rattled off a 17-4 run that gave Georgetown a double-digit lead. The Hoyas sought and found offense near the basket early. Jamorko Pickett hit an elbow jumper, and then Josh LeBlanc found space for a lay-in. Jessie Govan converted a Pickett feed for a dunk, then hit a short jumper. Georgetown enjoyed superior size over St. John’s in the middle, and used that size to its advantage.
But the good times didn’t last. Having scored just 11 points over the game’s first 10 minutes, the Red Storm’s high-powered attack caught fire, rattling off 31 points over the remaining 10 minutes before half. Shamorie Ponds hit four three-pointers during that stretch, part of a game-high 37-point day for the St. John’s star guard. By the time intermission arrived, an 11-point Georgetown lead had flipped to a 3-point Red Storm lead.
And yet, the Hoyas didn’t fold. Shortly after the break, Greg Malinowski made consecutive threes to give Georgetown the lead again. That was the first of seven second-half lead changes, with an equal number of ties. The Hoyas struggled to contain the ongoing assault by the Red Storm offense, which shot 60 percent from inside the arc and canned 11 triples from beyond it. But Georgetown gave as good as it got for much of the second half, with LeBlanc and Govan continuing to have their way near the basket and the occasional big three bomb dropping from outside. Even after a late nine-point Hoya lead evaporated, a Pickett free throw put Georgetown up 4 with 17 seconds to go.
Then, disaster struck. Georgetown fouled Ponds, giving up a pair of free throws with 14 seconds to play, cutting the lead to 2. The Hoyas then inbounded the ball to Jahvon Blair who, while a strong outside shooter, does not have a strong handle. Blair attempted to split a double team, only to lose control of the ball in front of the Red Storm’s basket. Blair then fouled LJ Figueroa, who converted both free throws to tie the game with 9 seconds remaining. A ball-handling miscue by James Akinjo out of the timeout set up a rushed final possession that yielded nothing.
Entering overtime, the Hoyas looked the part of a team that had squandered a late lead, while the Red Storm fittingly looked like they had been given new life. With a bounce in its step, St. John’s scored 8 straight points to start the extra session, converting an alley-oop, a wide open corner 3, and a barely contested drive. Once the Hoyas regained their composure, a four-point play by Govan halved the deficit, and a series of missed free throws by St. John’s allowed the Hoyas the ball back down 3 with 22 seconds remaining. But Georgetown couldn’t tie the game, as the final possession failed to free up an open shooter. Instead, an Akinjo heave was wide, while a Blair shot off an offensive rebound also went astray.
What looked like a likely Georgetown victory instead became a defeat that was all too familiar for fans who survived Georgetown’s loss at Syracuse last month. There was the promising start that yielded a double-digit Hoya advantage. There was the opposing comeback that saw Georgetown fall behind, only to have the Hoyas battle back. There was the nip-and-tuck second half, and the final minute in which Georgetown held the lead and the ball. And there was a costly late turnover and, ultimately, frustration.
There was a lot to like about the Hoyas’ performance Saturday. All five Georgetown starters scored in double figures, with Jessie Govan netting a team-high 25 points to go with 11 rebounds and Josh LeBlanc also putting together a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Jamorko Pickett continued his strong defensive play while scoring a season-high 13 points, his first time beyond single figures since the season’s opening week. Greg Malinowski matched Pickett’s scoring total while dishing out 7 assists, his highest as a Hoya. After weeks of showing promise off the pine, Malinowski has made the most of his three games as a starter in Mac McClung’s absence, averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. And James Akinjo, despite foul trouble and frustrating errors down the stretch, managed 17 points, including some clutch free throws in regulation.
The loss was more frustrating than fatal. The Hoyas emerge from a tricky road trip and a home data against a strong St. John’s team at .500. Two weeks ago, after a listless win over Little Rock seemed to confirm lowered expectations for the season ahead, we would have been more than satisfied with splitting these two.
And yet, the last three games have shown greater potential, which inevitably has raised our expectations. With LeBlanc and Malinowski in the starting lineup, Georgetown appears to have a more fluid offense with better spacing and a more coherent defense, if not exactly a stout one. Starting those two players also has meant giving them more minutes, a good move for two of the Hoyas’ more valuable pieces.
There won’t be any easy dates in the Big East this year for Georgetown, but there also shouldn’t be many the Hoyas can’t win. The last two games showed that, true to the cliche, every game will be a battle. The next fight comes Wednesday, when Georgetown travels to Cincinnati to take on Xavier.