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ONE STEP BACK: Georgetown Can’t Finish Against St. John’s, 75-73

Second-half turnovers and second-chance points set up spoiled 9-point lead

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

One step forward, one step back. Your Georgetown Hoyas (6-16, 1-10) traveled up to NYC for a post-Sunday-brunch matchup against the St. John’s Red Storm (14-8, 4-7) at the Garden, with the team bouncing back from an early deficit to take the lead just before halftime, then fading late and ultimately coming up heartbreakingly short in the final seconds by a score of 75-73.

The seemingly interminable sequence of pain finally concluded last Tuesday evening as fans gathered at Capital One arena to celebrate the 3rd birthday of Jack the Bulldog, with a basketball contest against DePaul incidentally occurring at the same venue. Georgetown entered today’s game at MSG as roughly 10-point underdogs, but with the rejuvenating influence of shedding that 29-game BIG EAST losing streak. The Johnnies, on the other hand, had lost their last two straight — a low scoring contest against Nova and the nearly 30-point drubbing by Creighton. Posh Alexander was sidelined again with an (ankle?) injury, presenting the Hoyas with an ever so slight opening.

Akok Akok won the tip, and Primo Spears got the first basket of the game after a disjointed possession that included an impressive sideline slip-n-slide from Andre Curbelo on an unsuccessful attempted takeaway. Addae-Wusu answered with a triple for the Johnnies at the other end. Georgetown forced a turnover, and while it looked like Spears was rolling downhill toward a wild breakaway layup attempt, he made a mature decision to pull the offense into a reset, control the ball, and find Qudus Wahab for a more controlled basket. Wusu hit again from long range and after a Hoyas’ pass flew out of bounds, St. Johns scored again.

Jordan Riley was being stifled on offense by Soriano, and Akok couldn’t get looks inside. Brandon Murray converted off the steal with an acrobatic layup and-1, but that was the only success Georgetown mustered amidst a 15-3 run by the Johnnies that left the visitors trailing 17-7. The team (and the audience) struggled through a run of 1/9 from the field before Spears made two in a row and Murray got the tap-back off another steal to pull the Hoyas within 4 heading into the second commercial.

The teams traded baskets, including a contested three from Spears and another fly-in tip by Murray off a missed jumper. Georgetown gave up a 4-point swing by mishandling a rebound and inability to convert from the line. Wusu knocked down his third triple of the game, Spears crossed up his defender and knocked down a jumper, Wayne Bristol Jr. got the follow-tip in transition, Kolby King scored two in a row for the Johnnies, and a frenetic series of possessions only ended when Spears rocketed a long pass out of bounds over Akok’s outstretched hands. When that whistle finally triggered the U4 media break — nearly three minutes late — Georgetown trailed 31-25.

A jumper from Wahab, a pair of buckets from Murray and Spears, all punctuated by a transition dunk from Riley off the turnover, added up to a 9-0 Hoyas run and pulled them within one, 35-34 with 1:41 to play in the opening half. Mike Anderson called timeout to try to stop his players from turning it over. On the very next play, Murray tipped it away from SJU and allowed Akok to take the stolen ball up the court. The Hoyas couldn’t seem to score a bucket, but they stayed tenacious and Riley eventually drew a whistle. He made both, giving the Hoyas their first lead since the first basket of the game.

The Johnnies turned it over again on the next possession, though Murray was well-defended and unable to finish. SJU came up empty and Spears was attempting to hold for the last shot; while it got tipped away from him, Murray corralled the ball and rattled home an off-balance heave from beyond the arc mere milliseconds before the halftime buzzer sounded. Georgetown had a 39-35 lead.

Soriano opened the scoring in the latter half and Wahab managed to answer, recovering to score one off the glass after bringing the ball too low and briefly fumbling it away under strong pressure. Akok had a monster block on Addae-Wusu, then found Wahab inside who again fought through contact against Soriano & co. and hooked one in to cap an 18-2 Georgetown run. Curbelo hit a three-pointer off a steal by AJ Storr, but Wahab (who for a few sequences had seemed to shed whatever shadows have been haunting his confidence) hit again to maintain the Hoyas’ two-possession lead, 45-39 at the U16.

Georgetown briefly extended it to an eight point advantage, but gave three quarters of that back off a basket and four FTs from Soriano. Spears swung the momentum back with one jumper, then the Hoyas got another boost off an authoritative putback slam from Ezewiro off tje feed from Bristol. Spears hit one of two from the stripe coming out of the under-12 media break, putting Georgetown ahead 53-48. Wusu and Spears exchanged triples. Ezewiro collected a miss, wrestled it away from Curbelo, and scored an utterly improbable basket while falling flat onto his back, drawing the foul and making the free throw. Another St. John’s turnover turned into another and-1 for the Hoyas, this time off the hands of Murray. After the free throw, it was 62-53.

There was a MUCH belated whistle calling a blocking foul on Spears, which justifiably incensed the Georgetown coaching staff and returned possession to the Johnnies. The teams traded buckets, then momentum swung back toward the Johnnies as an interrupted pass allowed Storr an easy bucket and cut the difference to one possession, 64-61 with 6:36 remaining. Spears missed a driving layup, and while Ezewiro kept the possession alive, Murray could not make any magic happen with the fresh shot clock. The defensive pressure and active hands from St. John’s were giving the Hoyas fits, rendering them unable to execute an offensive set and taking away any easy solo looks at the basket.

Georgetown went more than 3 minutes without a field goal and allowed a 9-0 run, with Spears getting swarmed and Murray struggling to handle the ball more. SJU came up nearly empty from the line during this interval, but ultimately tied it at 64-64 off a jumper from Soriano. Spears immediately answered from three, then David Jones trimmed the Georgetown advantage back down to one, 67-66 with 3:19 left to play. A pair of foul shots from Wahab extended that lead slightly, but Jones once again used a baseline drive to cut the Hoyas’ lead back to a single point. Wahab was fouled inside, again, and made one of two from the line.

Jones drove through traffic and tied it at 70 with just under 90 seconds remaining. Wahab fouled out with 46 seconds remaining, sending Jones to the line where he gave St. John’s the lead, 72-70.

Murray handled the ball, was pressured, looked like he was going to drive inside, but kicked it out to Mozone in the corner who drained the 3-pointer. With only his second basket of the game, he put the Hoyas back on top with 18.8 seconds on the clock.

Georgetown, in a rare move to zone, defended well through the early seconds of the next possession, but Curbelo zipped along the baseline and found the open man. The Hoyas were helping off of Storr, leaving the freshman quite open to hit a triple and yank the lead back. With 4 seconds left, St. John’s was ahead 75-73.

The Hoyas had possession, but Akok’s pass up the court was deflected out of bounds. Spears – improbably – was charged with inbounding with merely 1.2 seconds on the clock. He passed it in to Mozone, who allowed a defender to fly by but the subsequent buzzer-adjacent shot circled the basket before rimming out.

The Hoyas came up short, and being on the wrong end of a 20-9 run in the waning minutes hurt. That said, it was more palatable to have a competitive game, and the balanced scoring between Spears (25 points), Murray (17 points), and Wahab (14 points, 7 reb) was fun to watch. Akok had 5 blocks that made it onto the stat sheet, and Riley snagged four steals. The distribution of minutes between certain players still does not seem correct, and the backup plan of trying to use someone other than Spears as the primary ball handler when he draws too much pressure does not work well. The other things that we know are problems ... are still problems ... and enumerating them would take time and keep me away from starting to grill a late lunch/early dinner.

Next up, the Hoyas head back home to DC where they will host Creighton for a 6:30pm tipoff this Wednesday (2/1), set to air on FS1.

The Bluejays are coming off a double-digit win over #13 Xavier, so Georgetown will need to elevate their game if they plan to play up to the level of this competition. Hoya Saxa.