Six weeks ago when the league's basketball coaches were picking Georgetown to win the Big East Conference, Hoya Coach John Thompson warned that there would be nights like this for his young team.

The Hoyas played hard, yet shot poorly for the second straight game and lost the opener in defense of their Big East championship, to St. John's, 68-60. They were still scrapping at the end, cutting a 12-point deficit in half with less than two minutes to play. t

"They need more maturity," said Thompson.

The poor shooting was the biggest factor in the Hoyas' second straight loss and third in four games. They hit 43 percent of their field goal attempts and Eric (sleepy) Floyd continued his slump with a seven-for-19 night that makes him 14 for 48 in the last two games. s

St. John's, which won its second straight conference game, shot 54 percent in the second half tonight after a turnover-plagued opening 20 minutes and a 26-26 halftime tie.

Lack of free throws was the other problem for Georgetown (7-6). The Redmen (9-2) sank 20 of 25 free throws; Floyd, who scored a team-high 18 points, made all four of the Hoya free throws.

Hoya guard Fred Brown, who quarterbacks the offense, went scoreless, taking just three shots and assisting on only two baskets. Forward Eric Smith also was silent, with four points, four rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes.

Georgetown collected only 10 assists toward its 28 field goals -- a low ratio of assists to baskets -- but Thompson said he was not displeased the way his offense moved.

The Redmen started quickly in the second half, jumping to a 42-34 lead on Curtis Redding's three-point play five minutes into the period. A record 6,442 in Alumni Hall watched the lead grow to 12 with less that two minutes remaining and the Hoyas seemingly finished.

"We tried the best we could to win this game," Thompson said. "This losing is bothering the heck out of me, but there's no way I'm going to get down on these kids after they played so hard. The losing is bothering them just as much."

The Hoyas seemed to play their hardest trailing by a dozen near the end. The Redmen were cocky and arrogant all night, especially when they looked found themselves leading by 10. But every time they seemed on the verge of a blowout, the Hoyas scored four quick points to tighten the game.

Trailing, 64-52 with just 1:53 remaining, reserve guard Ron Blaylock hit a jumper from the corner and, after a St. John's turnover, Jeff Bullis sank a turnaround jumper. Floyd then scored a layup and the Hoyas were within six, 64-58.

After St. John's forward Ron Plair made two free throws, Blaylock scored another jumper from the corner. 66-60. Each Georgetown basket in that stretch was preceded by a missed St. John's free throw, either the front or back end of one-and-ones.

However, Blaylock missed a jumper with 28 seconds remaining which would have cut St. John's lead to four. Center Wayne McKoy, who scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, closed the game's scoring with two free throws. McKoy was warned by an official about elbowing and shoving late in the game and had to be separated from Georgetown's Ed Spriggs at one point.

Spriggs, who still has a sore ankle, was replaced in tonight's starting line-up by 7-foot Mike Frazier, who scored eight points.Mike Hancock, with 12 points, was the only other Hoya player in double figures but he needed 18 shots to make six baskets.

Georgetown lost only one game in its six conference games last season but will play Big Rivals twice this year in a double round-robin format.