St. John’s avenged its worst loss of league play with an 86-80 victory over Georgetown Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Trounced by 28 in their first meeting with the Hoyas in early January, the Red Storm built an early lead and had enough left in the tank to hold off Georgetown on their home court this time around.
A wild first half saw each team trade 17-0 runs. After Georgetown took an early 13-10 lead, St Johns’ Federico Mussini kicked off the Red Storm’s surge with a pair of 3-pointers. He would add five more during the run as the Johnnies opened up a 14-point lead with 8:12 remaining in half.
After an exchange of baskets, Georgetown kicked off its own 17-0 run powered by 11 points from graduate student Rodney Pryor. The Robert Morris transfer capped the swing with a pair of 3-pointers to give the Hoyas a 32-29 lead 2:12 before intermission.
Georgetown held a one-point lead at halftime, but Bashir Ahmed’s jumper to open the second half gave St. John’s a lead it would never relinquish. The Johnnies outscored Georgetown 10-3 to open the second stanza, and pushed their advantage to as much as nine on an Amar Alibegovic fast-break dunk with just over two minutes remaining.
That dunk would represent the Red Storm’s last field goal of the game, but although the Hoyas were able to cut the lead to one with just over a minute to play, St. John’s went a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line in the final minutes to seal the victory.
“The big thing tonight was our free throw shooting,” head coach Chris Mullin said. “We can put guys in there at the end of the game if we just have a one-point lead, whether it’s Marcus, Shamorie, Federico, if you have to get fouled, they’re going to make their free throws, which is key.”
St. John’s was led by 24 points from freshman Shamorie Ponds, who became just the third freshman in program history to reach the 500-point plateau and stands just 42 points shy of D’Angelo Harrison’s rookie record of 544. Mussini and Ahmed supported the effort with 16 apiece, while Marcus LoVett added 11.
“That would be a great accomplishment,” Ponds said of pursuing the freshman scoring record. “I’m not chasing it, but if it happens, it happens.”
This year’s influx of talent has forced Mussini – the Red Storm’s second-leading scorer with 10.3 ppg as a freshman last season – into a bench role as a sophomore. Despite the dip in playing time, the Italian native has been an important cog in the developing St. John’s machine.
“Federico was big, because we were really struggling to get going,” Mullin said of Mussini. “He came in, was aggressive, made some shots which he will do, but I thought also he was just scrappy on defense. It’s always an added bonus for a guy coming off the bench and giving us a lift, and probably more importantly to put a little pressure on our other guys to play up to that level.”
St. John’s, which averages 15.9 takeaways per game, forced Georgetown into 22 turnovers on Saturday. It marked the most turnovers for the Hoyas in Big East Play (20 vs. DePaul), and their second-most this season (28 vs. Oklahoma State). It was the second-most turnovers for a St. John’s opponent since the Red Storm forced Villanova into 23 giveaways earlier this month.
“I love our pressure and our length, Mullin added. “I’ve been telling them it’s kind of two mindsets: we want to be really aggressive in the backcourt and create havoc, but in the halfcourt, we’re going to be disciplined and keep the ball in front of us.”
Pryor led Georgetown with 22 points, while L.J. Peak was close behind with 20. Jessie Govan added 13, and sophomore Kaleb Johnson poured in a season-high 11.
The Johnnies, who improved to 7-9 in Big East play, continue to jockey for position in the upcoming Big East tournament. St. John’s will close out their season with a trip to Creighton Tuesday before playing host to Providence in early March to end the regular season.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.