For the second year in a row, St. John’s and Georgetown played in the opening game of the Big East Tournament. The Red Storm roster looks a lot different from the 2017 game that included Marcus LoVett, Malik Ellison, Federico Mussini, and Darien Williams.
The Red Storm live another day after beating Georgetown 88-77 in the opening game of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
St. John’s, who trailed by as many as 10 in the first half, outscored the Hoyas 46-29 in the second half.
The Red Storm offense clicked with five players finishing in double-digits. Shamorie Ponds led the team with 26 points. Justin Simon had 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Marvin Clark II scored 16, Tariq Owens scored 13 and Bashir Ahmed added 10.
“A lot of our sets have multiple options and it’s up to Justin and Shamorie to make the right reads,” Chris Mullin said. “They’ve done a great job of that all year. Exceptional in the second half. I thought their command of the reads and the command of their teammates was exceptional and sharing the ball, being unselfish.”
It was solid second half defense that also came through for the Johnnies, holding Georgetown under 30 points after halftime. “I thought the first half, they got too many open looks, too many walk-in 3s,” Mullin said. “No resistance. I thought we were fortunate to be only down 6 at halftime. And I thought our defense picked up in the second half and offensively we kind of got moving. And, like I said, Justin and Shamorie really dictated the flow of the game.”
Georgetown was coached by John Thompson III last season, but now it’s Patrick Ewing on the sidelines for the Hoyas.
Georgetown finished the regular season 5-13 each of the last two seasons. St. John’s went from 7-11 to 4-14, finishing in ninth place because of a tiebreaker over DePaul.
The Hoyas beat St. John’s in both regular season meetings, but Mullin beat Ewing for the first time in their head coaching careers.
Mullin didn’t focus on the coaching matchup although he admitted, “I know I’d rather coach against him than play against him. It’s a lot easier on my body.”
But St. John’s also had wins over Duke and Villanova this season. A win over Xavier on Thursday could put St. John’s in the NIT, while a loss would leave them with a losing record.
Xavier beat St. John’s twice this season, including one game that was tied within the final two minutes at Carnesecca Arena. “When you’re playing a team for the third time there’s less preparation you have to do, everyone knows the personnel,” Mullin said. “We know what kind of game either team’s going to play. Everyone knows each other’s inside and out personnel, game plans and things like that.”
Last year, St. John’s had to play Villanova at noon after a night win against Georgetown and responded by losing 108-67. The team is feeling that things can be different this time. “For sure, most definitely,” Ponds said. “I think except for a couple of games, each and every game we showed that we can compete with anybody in the country. Our mindset going into the Big East Tournament was one game at a time. We know we can do it.”