Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
St. John’s Ends Big East Tournament Losing Streak in Wild Win Over Georgetown
By DENNIS CHAMBERSNEW YORK — After losing their last six Big East Tournament games, St. John’s finally ended their rough stretch Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
In the 8-9 matchup that kicked off the 2017 Big East Tournament, St. John’s prevailed over Georgetown, 74-73. The Red Storm will face No. 1 Villanova, the defending NCAA champion, in a noon quarterfinal on Thursday.
MalikEllison – who affected every area of the game with 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals – recognized the long-standing rivalry between the two programs. The sophomore guard was happy to be a part of ending the losing streak.
“Big time win for us,” Ellison said. “Obviously there’s been a huge rivalry over the last 40 years. And it was great that we came together as a team and we got the victory.”
However, the biggest action of the night took place while the game clock was paused. With St. John’s leading 59-54 and just under nine minutes remaining in the second half AmarAlibegovic fouled Georgetown’s L.J.Peak on his way to the basket. Tensions quickly escalated as BradleyHayes seemed to shove Alibegovic, causing the benches to clear and scrum to break out involving both players and coaches.
When the dust settled Alibegovic was handed a flagrant-1 foul. St. John’s head coach ChrisMullin and Georgetown assistant coach Patrick Ewing Jr. were handed technical fouls.
Red Storm rookie ShamoriePonds, who scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds in his Big East Tournament debut, chalked the kerfuffle up to nothing more than raw emotion.
“A lot of emotions came up and it was a hard foul,” Ponds said of the shake-up. “And the team just thought like, it was intentional. Personally, I didn’t think it was intentional. They just – everybody got riled up.”
Hoyas’ head coach John Thompson III echoed Ponds’ statement.
“It’s just competition,” Thompson III said. “It’s the Big East Tournament. It’s just competition, that’s all.”
Mullin, who played against Ewing Jr.’s father in the Big East from 1981-85 and then alongside him during the 1992 Olympics for the Dream Team, approached Junior after the game to discuss their in-game beef.
“I asked him if he was going to beat me up like his father did,” Mullin said. “He said no, I love you, so I said ok. He was on the trip with us in Barcelona when he was a little baby. So, yeah, just tremendous respect there. There really is. And it was nothing more than competitive juices, nothing more than that. This time. In ’85 there was more to it.”
Ponds, a Brooklyn native, relished in front of the 14, 308 fans that packed The Garden Wednesday night.
“It was amazing,” Ponds said. “Like the crowd, everything was amazing. So I think this is, like, the best tournament in the country.”
This latest loss for Georgetown brought the team’s record to 14-18 – the program’s worst since 1972 – effectively ending their season. After losing seven of their final eight games, Thompson III has faced criticism for the direction the program is headed.
But on the heels of a season-ending defeat, reflection isn’t on the coach’s mind.
“After a loss like that right now I don’t think it’s the time to do that,” Thompson III said.
Thompson III isn’t sure at the moment when that time will come.
“I’m not sure,” Thompson III said. “Not tonight. I’m worried about the group that’s in there right now, the student-athletes that are in there right now, how they’re feeling right now. So not tonight.”
With their rendition of “survive and advance”, St. John’s (14-18) will face Villanova on Thursday, Mar. 9 at noon in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
The quick turnaround from Wednesday night to Thursday afternoon will bring no new message from Mullin to his players. Just the same old advice.
“Like I tell them all the time, get their rest and come out and play,” Mullin said.
Photo: Associated Press
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