Georgetown, still peaking, and St. John's, hitting what its coach called "the bottom," posted first-round victories in the Big East basketball tournament today, setting up a semifinal meeting at 7 p.m. Friday.
Georgetown overcame Seton Hall's slowdown, taking a 26-point lead with 10 minutes to play, and turning it into a 60-47 triumph in the opener of the evening doubleheader at the Providence Civic Center. It was GU's 11th straight victory.
St. John's survived Providence's upset bid, 48-44, this afternoon, helped greatly by a controversial offensive foul against the Friars that nullified the tying field goal and possible go-ahead free throw with six seconds to play.
The seeding remained intact completely when Connecticut jumped ahead at the start of the second half, stopped a short Boston College rally and prevailed, 79-68, before a disappointing crowd of 6,814 in the second game tonight. Connecticut thus advanced to Friday's 9 p.m. semifinal against top-seeded Syracuse, which won a three-way coin flip for the first-round bye.
"As bad as we played today, we won the game," St.John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said. "I hope we've hit the bottom and can come back."
Red Auerbach, the Boston Celtic president-general manager, watched the opening round and picked 20th ranked Georgetown to reverse a 71-69 loss Jan. 19 to the No. 8 Redmen. Georgetown center Ed Spriggs missed the game with an ankle injury and the Hoyas have not lost since.
"They should beat St. John's," Auerbach said. "Both are good defensive coaches, but Georgetown has better personnel. They seem to be peaking and getting better all the time. To me, St. John's looks tired."
Tonight, Georgetown (22-5) was most businesslike. The Hoyas broke the game open early, took a 42-18 lead early in the second half, expanded it to 57-31 with 10 minutes to play and then stalled out the clock while Seton Hall guard Don Callandrillo finished up a 32-point game.
"We held the ball earlier than we would have liked," Georgetown Coach John Thompson said. "But you have to understand, to win this tournament, we have to play three games in three nights and you want a short game whenever you can get it."
Georgetown's defense, Eric (Sleepy) Floyd's jump shooting and the Hoyas' powerful domination of the backboards -- Georgetown had more offensive rebounds in the first half than Seton Hall had total rebounds -- ruined ideas Pirate Coach Bill Raftery had to steal a victory.
Seton Hall won the opening tip and ran 67 seconds off the clock before Callandrillo drove the lane, was fouled by Al Dutch and converted a three-point play.
But Dutch evened the score with a three-point play of his own, giving the 6-foot-7 senior 1,000 career points, and Georgetown's defense held the Pirates scoreless for the next 6 1/2 minutes. By then it was 10-3. By then Seton Hall already had committee five turnovers.
"I thought we could do some things, get away with some things," Raftery said afterward. "To Georgetown's credit, they took it away from us."
Floyd made two early jumpers and finished with 22 points on nine-of-14 shooting. He was the only effective Hoya offensively. Over the last 10 games, he is shooting 58 percent from the floor, in marked contrast to his freshman season when he tailed off to 33 percent the last third of the season.
"I know what it takes to keep my concentration now; total concentration all the time," he said. "I don't take anything for granted."
How good is Georgetown playing now?
Not so good that Thompson was satisfied with this victory, despite the impressive margin.
"The whole game was off tempo," he said. "We didn't play great offense or defense. It was one of those games you're trying to get over with. Nothing was snapping like we wanted it to. But you can expect this.
"We got up and we got for ahead statistically. But we weren't playing how I wanted. We weren't loose and easy. It was like we were playing to keep from losing."
Said Floyd: "We can play a lot better. We haven't reached our peak yet.
We have confidence in ourselves. We know this isn't as good as we can play."
Everyone in the arena knows St. John's can play better than it did today. The Redmen (24-3) couldn't play any worse. St.John's has been in what guard Reggie Carter calls "a rut" of inconsistency the last five games.
Center Wayne McKoy, who played only 15 minutes today because of fouls, says he has been playing with a sore back and pulled hamstring recently. He said he has been in pain "but coach told me you play with pain in the pros every day."
St. John's won today only because freshman reserve David Russell, injured with a dislocated left index finger that hampers his jump shooting and rebounding, scored 17 points inside and captured seven rebounds and because of the call by a Southwest Conference referee that resulted in the court being littered with paper cups and other trash by part of the afternoon turnout of about 5,000.
It was 46-44, St.John's, with the Redmen in possession when they made their final mistake of the day. Guard Curtis Redding, having already beaten Providence's troublesome full-court zone press, spun away from defender Rudy Williams in a showboat move at midcourt, lost control and was called for walking.
Providence tried to set up a baseline shot for Williams and succeeded. The junior forward was open momentarily, but St. John's defense swarmed to him, with Frank Gilroy between him and the basket.
"The offensive man turned and pushed him (Gilroy) out of the way, then went up for the shot," referee Dan Watson, the chief of one of three Southwest Conference crews here, told a pool reporter.
Providence fouled Gilroy on the ensuing inbounds play and he converted too free throws for the final margin.
St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said, "I'm a lucky, lucky guy; we're a lucky, lucky team. There are no excuses. The only thing I can say for my team is we stopped them when we had to stop them."
Raftery recalled a breakfast conversation with Carnesecca this morning. "He told me this team wasn't playing or practicing as well as he would like. But in college basketball, you can get it back in a hurry."
Gilroy hopes that is the case.
"Sometimes when you play badly," he said, "you get so mad, you sit back and think about what you did wrong. Then you come back the next night twice as fired up."