Mike Frazier, Georgetown's maligned 7-foot reserve center, played the fiercest, most inspired basketball of his career in the stretch against St. John's yesterday, leading the Hoyas to 75-68 Big East victory at McDonough Arena.
"Georgetown is the hottest team in this league," St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said after his team's defeat. The loss further jumbled the race in what may be the nation's most balanced conference this season.
After Boston College defeated Connecticut, 76-71, last night, a half-game separated the top four teams, with the next two schools having just one more loss than the top four. St. John's and Boston College are tied for first, at 6-3; Georgetown and Connecticut are each 5-3. Villanova and Syracuse each have four league losses.
Hoya all-America canidate Sleepy Floyd scored 27 points, including 13 of 14 free throws, offsetting a 23-point effort by St. John's star David Russell and setting the stage for Georgetown to win its fourth straight game behind the inside play of Frazier. The Hoyas also got another strong defensive effort, with specialist Gene Smith playing a big role.
With 11 minutes to go, Georgetown's two top point guards, Fred Brown and Gene Smith, had four fouls each and it was Frazier who played good defense against Wayne McKoy. That came when Georgetown needed it most, after regaining the lead for good, 65-64, on Jeff Bullis' short turnaround jumper with 5:39 to play.
The next six St. John's possessions were crucial. Three times the Redmen went to McKoy near the basket and each time Frazier's defense caused the agile but tiring 6-foot-9 senior to miss. During the six possessions, Frazier had three of his six rebounds. His free throw and his tap-in of an Eric Smith (13 points) miss put Georgetown up, 72-66, with 1:18 to play.
Not coincidentally, as Frazier's play has gotten more solid, so has Georgetown -- and just in time for tournament play. Frazier had only four points and six rebounds in 25 minutes, yet he was the key player at the end.
Frazier was not available for comment because the Hoya locker room was closed by Coach John Thompson. A school spokesman said it was because the team had to catch a flight to Syracuse for a Monday game.
Before leaving, Thompson praised Frazier, a fifth-year senior who always plays his best in the latter portion of the season.
"McKoy is playing like he wants to make a lot of money," Thompson said. "So it's a testament to Mike that he did an excellent job on McKoy. Again, Mike has waited until the end of the season to play his best basketball."
In St. John's' victory over Georgetown in the conference opener Jan. 7, it was McKoy who scored 17 second-half points to lead the Redmen.
"Last time we controlled the rebounds and made the shots, and they didn't," said Carnesecca. "The two games were very similar, only on opposite sides."
Carnesecca said his team made its mistake long before McKoy's missed shots. It went wrong by fouling Floyd so often.
"You can't foul Floyd," the coach said. "You've got to let him shoot those long jumpers and hope he doesn't hit too many."
Floyd kept Georgetown within range in the first half, scoring 17 points during a 20-minute period in which no teammate scored more than four. The Hoyas trailed at intermission, 38-33.
Georgetown started the second half with Frazier at center, instead of regular starter Ed Spriggs, and playing such strong defense that the Redmen controlled the second-half tap, but did not take their first shot until the Hoyas had pulled within 38-37.
That set the tone for the rest of the game and allowed the Hoyas to win despite shooting only 41 percent from the floor.
Thompson's teams characteristically play better in February than December. And this season, when the Hoyas were the preseason conference choice, Thompson warned that this team would have some scars before getting good.
But this is the time for the good part and this is a month in which the Hoyas have won 15 straight games since 1979. By this time in the season, Thompson's team knows to compensate for poor shooting with defense and rebounding.
"We understand what's at stake now," Thompson said. "The communication is much better, and that's why we're playing much better."