By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:06 AM
Georgetown men's basketball coach John Thompson III and several of his players were wrapping up a postgame news conference on Saturday after the ninth-ranked Hoyas had dispatched DePaul, 86-75, when the conversation turned to how they would handle playing for a second time in three days in the rugged Big East.
Before senior guard Austin Freeman could offer his thoughts on the topic, Thompson interceded, almost as if to reprimand. "Wednesday, Saturday, Monday," Thompson said. "Two on the road."
So make that three games in six days, with the stretch concluding against St. John's at Madison Square Garden, a regular destination for the Hoyas but nonetheless a special experience playing in perhaps the most hallowed arena in the world.
Georgetown (12-2, 1-1 Big East) enters Monday's game following an uneven, at times sloppy performance against the Blue Demons, whose futility extended to a 25th consecutive road loss and 15th straight conference defeat. The Hoyas allowed a 10-point lead in the second half to dwindle to one, but senior guard Chris Wright took over from there by scoring nine of their next 15 points for a 66-57 lead with 9 minutes 5 seconds to play.
Among the highlights during that surge was Wright leaping to save a ball from landing out of bounds beyond the baseline. In one motion, Wright caught the ball with his hand and tossed it back into the painted area, where Jason Clark collected the pass and made the shot while getting fouled. It was one of many energetic plays on the part of Wright, who emerged from an uneventful first half to score all 17 of his points after intermission.
Following that acrobatic assist, Wright scored six straight points by becoming considerably more daring on drives into the lane. His pluck spilled over to his teammates, who followed suit by clamping down defensively and limiting DePaul to one field goal over nearly five and a half minutes in the second half. Georgetown held the Blue Demons to 13 percent from three-point range overall and got to the line 20 times in the second half after just six free throw attempts before the break.
They'll need that level of aggression to contend with a resurgent Red Storm team that is coming off an uplifting 67-65 win against Providence on Saturday night. St. John's got 21 points from Dwight Hardy and 16 from Justin Burrell, and Paris Horne made a three-pointer with 28 seconds to play to break a tie.
St. John's (9-3, 2-0) has won four straight games, and both its conference victories have come on the road. The Red Storm is in a three-way tie for first in the Big East, and it is 2-0 in the conference for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. That also was the last time it won the Big East title.
"We've got to be focused," said Freeman, who scored 21 points against DePaul on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3 of 5 from three-point range. "This stretch right now, you're going to be tired, so we just have to ready, be mentally and physically focused to go against any team in the Big East when we have a stretch like this."
A perennial loser over the past decade, St. John's is trying to re-establish itself as a basketball powerhouse under the tutelage of first-year Coach Steve Lavin, who received a six-year deal worth reportedly in the neighborhood of $9 million. Lavin was the head coach at UCLA from 1996 to 2003 and led the Bruins to six straight NCAA tournaments. UCLA advanced to the round of eight in 1997.
Georgetown has won six of its past seven regular games against the Red Storm, most recently at Verizon Center last year, 66-59. Wright finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and Freeman chipped in with 15 points on 6 of 8 from the field.
"They have kids much like our group that have been through the Big East," Thompson said of St. John's. "They know the personnel. They know our guys. Our guys know them. Now they have a new coach, which gives them a little bit of different energy with that, but they're a veteran team that's going to be playing at home in the Garden."