Once again, St. John's and Georgetown drew their swords .
Just like last time, it was warfare from base line to base line. There were 54 fouls called in the game. Twice, early in the second half, scuffles caused both benches to be emptied and fists to be raised.
And, once again, St. John's stiletto was the sharpest. The No. 7 Redmen defeated the No. 14 Hoyas, 75-69, in a Big East Conference game last night before 17,166 fans and decibels at Capital Centre.
"If we meet again, the bad blood will be there," said St. John's senior forward Billy Goodwin, looking perhaps to a possible meeting in the Big East Tournament next month in New York. "That's just the way it is with these two teams. We won't take backward steps from anybody."
To understand these fighting words it is necessary to first understand the fight:
The Hoyas trailed, 40-38, at halftime, but fast-forwarded to a 49-44 lead with 16:37 to play. Then the Hoyas turned utterly harmless. Georgetown, which made just nine of 27 shots in the second half, went the next nine minutes without a field goal.
By the time Georgetown freshman guard Michael Jackson scored on a drive with 7:22 left in the game, the Redmen had outscored the Hoyas, 15-3, and led, 59-52.
But the Georgetown full-court press and Patrick Ewing performed a comeback duet for the Hoyas. In fact, after a steal off the press, Ewing scored underneath and was fouled, pulling Georgetown within 70-67 with 1:16 left.
But Ewing, the Hoyas' 7-foot center who scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds, then missed the free throw. Moments of frenzy and turnovers by both teams followed until Ewing fouled St. John's sophomore Chris Mullin with 57 seconds left, thereby fouling out of the game.
So cool and consistent, Mullin scored a game-high 25 points, merely making seven of 11 from the field. He also made all 11 free throws he took, including the two with 57 seconds left that gave the Redmen a 72-67 lead.
After another Georgetown turnover, St. John's guard Kevin Williams made two more free throws with 26 seconds left, improving the Redmen's lead to 74-67.
After regaining their cool midway through the second half, the Redmen (20-2, 9-2 in the Big East) also regained first place in the conference, slipping past idle Villanova (8-2). Georgetown (16-6, 6-3 in the Big East) sank into fourth place, behind Boston College, 7-3 in the league.
"I thought we had a shot all along," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson. "Our young kids didn't seem to realize we were so close."
The last time these teams played, the Redmen won, 76-67, at Madison Square Garden. Twice in that game, Ewing and Williams scuffled.
Trouble came twice last night, too. With the Hoyas leading, 44-42, and 17:28 remaining, Goodwin was ejected for hitting Georgetown freshman David Wingate in the face. After the foul, both benches emptied. No punches were thrown.
"He (Wingate) was calling me all kinds of names. He was throwing elbows, too," said Goodwin. "I drew the line and he stepped over it."
Wingate, who was unavailable for comment after the game, made the first free throw as the Georgetown lead crept up to 45-42. After Wingate missed the second free throw, the ball bounced high off the rim. That is when Williams and Jackson, a Hoyas freshman, pursued the ball and became entangled.
Again, both benches cleared. Again, fists were raised. Again, no punches were thrown. A foul was called on Jackson.
"Those were just subway pushes. You should have seen the fights in the old days," said Lou Carnesecca, St. John's coach, kibitzing after the victory guaranteed St. John's a ninth 20-victory season in 10 years.
Georgetown's alternating defenses forced the Redmen to shoot from afar. Often enough, Mullin responded. The Hoyas' press also helped to turn off the Redmen.
"They don't let you breathe with that press," said Carnesecca.
While the Redmen resorted to scoring off the transition game, beating the Hoyas down the court, Georgetown's offense was having troubles of its own. The Hoyas also had problems getting into their pattern offense. Once they did, they seemed committed to the turnover.
Hoyas fans did not forget that Williams was the player who tangled with Ewing back on Jan. 8. Each time Williams touched the ball during the first half, the largest and most animated Georgetown crowd since the Virginia game booed.
Once during the first half, a fan near the court called Williams a bum. Williams snapped back at the fan. Then during the halftime shootaround, fans near the court again heckled Williams, who turned around and challenged these fans to a postgame fight.
"I respect Georgetown and John Thompson, but I thought these fans were really lousy," Williams said .