Georgetown's undefeated, 20th-ranked basketball team showed signs of something special tonight in beating St. John's, 77-71.

Down 11 points midway through the first half of their first road game this season, the Hoyas reganed their poise, exploited St. John's with their quickness and gave Coach John Thompson a 5-0 start, his best in seven seasons at Georgetown.

Again, as he had done earlier in the week against Indiana, Georgetown captain Steve Martin led the Hoyas into control. He scored 15 of his 17 points in a 28-point, 18-possession stretch when Georgetown overcame a 45-43 deficit and pulled into a 71-63 lead with 2:16 to play.

It was during this time that Georgetown dominated inside, working its offense to perfection, usually getting Martin or Craig Shelton layups or six-foot jumpers.

And just to ensure the victory, when St. John's closed to 75-71 with 22 seconds left and freshman Eric Smith missed the front end of a bonus free-throw situation, Martin sneaked in to steal the offensive rebound and keep possession for the Hoyas.

John Duren then made two free throws to close out the scording, giving him 21 points, one less than forward Craig (Big Sky) Shelton. They were season highs for both Hoya juniors, as St. John's did a superb job taking freshman whiz Eric Floyd out of the Hoyas offense and holding the 6-foot-3 guard to a season low of 11 points.

"I can't say enough about Martin," Thompson said after the Hoyas' fifth victory over St. John's in the past six seasons. "He held the team together; he was our glue down the stretch."

Martin thought his defensive play was moer a factor than his offense. It was defense that brought the Hoyas back in the game, 45-39, with 16 minutes to play.

Georgetown started its comeback with a swarming, full-court zone press. Three turnovers later, after a six-foot Martin jumper from the baseline, the Hoyas were tied, at 45.

Two minutes later, St. John's center Wayne McKoy picked up his fourth foul and Coach Lou Carnesecca was forced to use four guards in an effort to overcome Georgetown's press and keep up with the Hoya offense.

The Redmen, now 4-2, did better getting the ball past midcourt, but they could not control the Georgetown offense. Then, as he had in the past three games, Thompson opted for an early showdown, going to a double-stack stall with six minutes to play.

At one stage, Georgetown scored on nine straight possessions and 14 of 16. All the Hoyas took were percentage shots: layups and little jumpers from eight feet and in.

Carnesecca marveled at Duren's play from Georgetown's point.

"Duren controls that club so well," he said. "He really controlled them tonight."

It wasn't that way early, after the Hoyas turned off Utopia Parkway into the St. John's campus. It seemed like a quick trip back to reality for a team Thompson has said he had little "to fuss about" thus far.

In its first 20 possessions, Georgetown committed nine turnovers and St. John's was burning the Hoyas' zone for 60 percent shotting. Martin and Shelton were forcing shots and Duren's early scoring was about all the Hoyas' had going for them.

With nine minutes left in the first half and the Hoyas' trailing, 25-13, the starters were playing so badly that Thompson opted to take a chance with some of his freshmen and other inexperienced players.

Every starter except Duren took a turn on the bench.

"That was one of the big keys, when all the young kids kept their composure," Thompson said. "After that, the more experienced players settled down. I took a lot of the regular guys out because they were playing so awful. Sometimes it does you better to watch for a while."

Georgetown's eldest freshman, 22-year-old Ed Spriggs, played superbly down the stretch, when the 6-foot-9 center got two of his three baskets and all four of his rebounds.

Now, Georgetown his the tough early part of its schedule without a loss, when as many as three had been thought possible in the preseason.

"It's baptism under fire," Thompson said.