By Tarik El-Bashir
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; D03
NEW YORK - After winning 11 of their first 12 games while playing college basketball's toughest nonconference schedule, expectations for the Georgetown Hoyas soared. But after a second loss in their first three Big East games, it might be time to dial back some of that early-season exuberance.
Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark struggled offensively Monday at Madison Square Garden, the 13th-ranked Hoyas committed far too many turnovers and, in the final crucial moments of a close game, it was the resurgent St. John's Red Storm who made the clutch plays in a 61-58 victory.
Forward Hollis Thompson scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but it wasn't enough to offset Georgetown's trio of standout guards shooting a combined 7 for 25 from the field and 2 for 13 from three-point range. In all, Freeman, Wright and Clark accounted for 20 points, which, coincidentally, was the same amount as Red Storm senior Dwight Hardy, who earlier in the day was named the conference's player of the week.
"It was probably a little bit of both," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said when asked whether it was St. John's defense or his guards' poor execution that led to the shooting struggles. "That being said, coming down the stretch we had to get one stop and we win or rebound and you win. We had several opportunities to do that, and we didn't."
The Hoyas methodically rallied from a six-point halftime deficit and in the final minute appeared poised to complete the comeback in spectacular final flurry.
Clark grabbed an offensive rebound in the midst of a morass of arms and bodies, then finished off a three-point play with 55 seconds left to play that put the visitors ahead 58-57. But Justin Brownlee scored a put-back of a Hardy miss at the other end to restore St. John's edge with eight seconds remaining.
Georgetown had one chance left.
But Freeman's jumper was deflected by Brownlee and the loose ball was corralled by Clark, whose foot was on the out of bounds line. The Hoyas were forced to foul, and Hardy, who has scored 20 or more points in six of the Red Storm's past seven games, made both free throws to secure St. John's first win over a ranked team since January 2009.
Under the direction of first-year Coach Steve Lavin, the veteran Red Storm, which started four seniors, improved to 10-3 and 3-0 in the conference. Georgetown, meantime, fell to 12-3 and 1-2 with pivotal home games against West Virginia and Pittsburgh looming even larger than before.
"We lost a tough game today, we just have to bounce back," said Wright, who missed all but one of his seven three-point attempts. "We have a lot of games left to win. We can learn from it. This hurts, but we can't look too deep into it because we have a tough West Virginia team on Saturday."
Wright and Clark both finished with seven points while Freeman, the Big East's most accurate shooter, looked lethargic in scoring a season-low six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
"I don't think I'm forcing shots, or doing anything uncharacteristic," Freeman said. "I'm just missing shots. I believe in myself, and I believe in my shot, so I'm going to continue to shoot the ball and knock them down. I'm just going to keep playing, and eventually when I start hitting shots, eventually we won't be sitting here [after] losing."
Lavin said switching defenses often and aggressively contesting Georgetown on the perimeter contributed to the Hoyas' poor shooting.
"One of our points of emphasis was that we always wanted to have a player and a half on Freeman and Wright, so that anytime they put the ball on the floor, we were going to [come at them] hard and get a high hand on their shot," he said.
Much like Georgetown's loss at Notre Dame last week, the defeat underscored the Hoyas' need to find a way to produce offense when the guards are struggling to score.
Front-court players Julian Vaughn, Henry Sims and Nate Lubick combined for 20 points.
"We need Chris Austin and Jason to score points, that's not a secret," Thompson said. "Do we have to find other ways when they're not putting the ball in the basket? Yes. Do I feel confident that on nights like tonight we can do that? Yes."
In addition to the shooting woes, Georgetown also had problems taking care of the ball. The Hoyas committed 14 turnovers, and the Red Storm converted those turnovers into 19 points. St. John's, on the other hand, made four turnovers.
"It's a rough start for us," Hollis Thompson acknowledged. "But it's early in the season and we just have to keep preparing ourselves, bounce back and move on."