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Georgetown vs. St. John's: Hoyas pull away from Red Storm, 77-52

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 12:19 AM

After an eight-day break between games, Georgetown emerged Wednesday refreshed, refocused and, if its 77-52 victory over St. John's was any indication, ready to make a run in the Big East.

The 21st-ranked Hoyas opened a double-digit lead with a crisp opening 20 minutes, stamped out an early second-half challenge from the reeling Red Storm, then pulled away behind Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and a feisty defensive effort en route to a third straight victory.

The win boosted Georgetown's record to 15-5 and 4-4 in the conference and vaulted it toward the middle of the standings in a league where everyone appears vulnerable.

"There was no good thing in losing those games early, but it's a long year," Coach John Thompson III said. "As everyone is seeing, teams in this league are going to beat each other up. We just had to climb out and keep fighting."

The Red Storm used a 9-1 run to pull to 41-36 about five minutes into the second half.

But moments later, Hollis Thompson, who came off the bench for the first time this season, put St. John's away with a three-pointer and a pretty finger roll on consecutive possessions that stretched the Hoyas' lead to 50-39.

Coach Thompson would not specify a reason for replacing Hollis Thompson in the starting lineup with freshman Nate Lubick. But the move seemed to work on all accounts.

Thompson scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in 18 minutes, and Lubick's size and toughness aided a defensive effort that limited St. John's to 33.9 percent from the field, the lowest shooting percentage for any of the Hoyas' opponents this season.

"When you come off the bench, you have an opportunity to see what we're doing right and what we need to do [better], and I try to bring that to the team," Thompson said. "I think it worked."

As important as Thompson's contributions were, the Hoyas won because of a rededication to team defense, which was their primary focus in practice this week.

Georgetown's players communicated, helped one another and aggressively pursued guards along the perimeter.

The best individual effort on defense was Chris Wright's handling of St. John's leading scorer Dwight Hardy, who was held to 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting. Hardy scored a game-high 20 points in the Red Storm's 61-58 victory over the Hoyas at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3.

"I wanted to limit his touches and try to make it hard for him," Wright said. "We had a lot of emphasis on perimeter defense. This week, we really got after it [in practice], playing a lot of three-on-three. I think three-on-three might have been much tougher than it was today. It helped us. We were all fired up to play today."

St. John's Coach Steve Lavin said he noticed a measurable difference in the Hoyas' level of intensity, execution and focus the second time around. The loss, meantime, extended the Red Storm's losing streak to three games as they near the end of a stretch in which they will have faced eight ranked opponents in a row. After the loss, they now haven't defeated a ranked team on the road since 2002, a span of 32 games.

"They played with a hard edge, an aggressiveness, maybe a payback mentality," Lavin said. "They were shooting it so well, they were in rhythm, clicking, hitting on all cylinders. They run a precision-oriented offense in terms of passing, spacing, cutting and timing. This was one of those nights [Coach Pete] Carril would be lighting a cigar somewhere, proud, calling JTIII, proud of one of his disciple's efforts."

Austin Freeman was limited to 14 points after scoring a combined 53 points in the previous two contests and garnering Big East player of the week honors. But that didn't matter much on a night in which the Hoyas got contributions on offense from throughout the lineup.

Clark scored a game-high 16 points, his highest total in four games, on 5-of-5 shooting. Wright, meantime, contributed nine points and six assists and Julian Vaughn, battling an apparently sore left ankle, tallied nine points and a team-best eight rebounds to send the Hoyas to their largest conference win since a 74-47 win over Cincinnati on March 3.

"It's a confidence builder," Clark said of his perfect shooting night. "I've been off lately, but I've stayed in the gym putting up shots. It's important to stay with it because we're all shooters and we all know we can make shots."

Next up for Georgetown is Villanova, which lost Wednesday night to woeful Providence. But don't ask Wright about the unpredictable nature of the Big East this season.

"I don't care," he said. "I could care less about Syracuse losing. I want them to lose. I want everybody to lose. But as long as we take care of what we got to do, we'll be all right."

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