This time, defense alone couldn't save Georgetown University's basketball team or its 29-game winning streak. The Hoyas, behind by 18 points in the second half, fought back with their best weapon: their bothersome, pressure defense.
As always, that defense put Georgetown in position to win. But the top-ranked Hoyas missed a possible seven of eight foul shots -- including six straight -- during the last six minutes and lost their first game of the season, 66-65, to third-ranked St. John's at Capital Centre.
Michael Jackson made a driving, hanging bank shot with six seconds left for the game's final points. By the time Chris Mullin took the ball out of bounds, four seconds remained, and he let the clock run out on the Hoyas.
The loss probably means that the Hoyas (18-1 this season and 7-1 in the Big East) will drop from the No. 1 spot in the rankings for the first time this season.
It was the third straight time the Redmen (15-1 and 7-0) had beaten Georgetown at Capital Centre. St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca called that "A phenomenon, an unusual thing."
"The last time we lost it was to St. John's, and it feels the same this time as it did then," Georgetown's all-America, Patrick Ewing, said. "I hate to lose anytime."
He had 15 rebounds but only nine points, on three field goals in seven shots. He missed his first three shots of the second half, then didn't shoot the last 11 1/2 minutes of the game. He made two foul shots in the last half.
Asked if losing a game might lessen the pressure on his team the rest of the season, Georgetown Coach John Thompson said: "Losing never helped me do anything. Pressure has been a life style with us, because we'd really gotten accustomed to winning. I don't know what effect it's going to have on us yet."
The agonizing thing for the Hoyas about this loss is it shouldn't have happened, if one considers foul shots that ought to have been made.
St. John's took a 57-39 lead with just less than 11 minutes to play on a coast-to-coast dunk by all-America Chris Mullin, who survived the defensive pressure of David Wingate and freshman Perry McDonald to score a game-high 20 points.
Carnesecca said he knew that to finish the upset, his team would have to survive one more of Georgetown's now-famous rallies. "You knew it was coming," he said. "I just wanted us to have enough cushion to survive it."
As it turned out, the cushion wasn't a bit too thick. Georgetown scored on five consecutive possessions, on a jumper by Billy Martin, a free throw by McDonald, a jumper by Horace Broadnax, and a three-point play by Wingate, who led the Hoyas with 16 points. That pulled Georgetown to 57-47.
Carnesecca, who had earlier called time when Georgetown scored two straight baskets, did so again, with 8:39 left.
Mullin made a fadeaway jumper, but Ewing's foul shots, and Broadnax's jumper made it 59-51.
"Was I scared? No," said St. John's center Bill Wennington. "Thinking a lot? Yes."
Had Georgetown made its free throws on the next three possessions, it could have almost overcome St. John's big lead in less than six minutes. But the Hoyas made only 11 of 22 foul shots in the game, and none in those three possessions.
After Berry missed a scoop shot, Martin missed the front end of a one-and-one that left the Hoyas down by eight. Martin stole the ball from Ron Stewart in the open court, but again missed the front end of a one-and-one.
After Wennington traveled, Ewing was fouled while shooting, but missed both foul shots. Instead of trailing by 59-57, the Hoyas still were down by eight.
"We've been sort of snakebitten by the free-throw thing the last few years," Thompson said. "I think you create (a problem) by overemphasizing it. We practice it a lot on free throws; maybe we should stop practicing so much."
Berry, the St. John's power forward who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, dunked to make it 61-51 after taking a sneaky pass from Mullin.
Still, the Redmen couldn't finish Georgetown, partly because St. John's missed a few foul shots, too, partly because Berry fouled out with with about a minute left and partly because Georgetown's defense got tougher every second.
As Mullin said: "Luckily, it was only a 40-minute game."
Georgetown pulled within five points several times. With 1:35 left, Jackson was fouled but could make only the first of two foul shots. Then, after Mullin's free throws made it 65-60, Jackson was called for traveling while driving to the basket.
"If you get a look at the game film, you'll see it wasn't that crowded in there," Jackson said. "What you want to do at that stage is penetrate and create (and hopefully draw a foul while making a basket). I thought I was bumped, but I guess the call was a good one."
Jackson would get fouled going to the hoop again, and again make only one of two foul shots. It was amazing that Georgetown still was forcing itself into having chances to win, and just as amazing that the opportunities kept slipping away.
"Even with everything that went wrong," Ewing said, "if we capitalized on our foul shooting, we may have won."
After Georgetown called time with 18 seconds left and trailing by 66-63, it appeared that Wennington committed an offensive foul by running right over Broadnax while St. John's tried to inbounds the ball.
What if Wennington was called for a foul? "I certainly can't see things objectively at that point of the game," Thompson said. "And at that point, both teams are reaching for straws."
Before that, St. John's had built its lead (40-30 at halftime) with a good blend of inside play and outside shooting. Berry, in addition to two emphatic dunks, blocked three shots.
When Berry committed his second foul and went to the bench seven minutes into the game, he admitted he was a little worried. But freshman Shelton Jones came in and helped St. John's increase its two-point lead to 40-27, which forced Georgetown to call time.
Afterward, much of the discussion turned to which team should be ranked No. 1 in the nation. Southern Methodist is No. 2; the Redmen are third. Thompson said he thought SMU should be ranked No. 1, but that was before the Mustangs lost to Texas Tech, 64-63, last night.
Carnesecca said he thinks Georgetown still is No. 1, and his team 15th, which is where he has been voting it all season, according to a school spokesman.
St. John's will have a few days to savor its biggest victory of the season. The Hoyas, meanwhile, left Capital Centre and boarded a flight for Syracuse, where they will play the Orangemen before about 35,000 in the Carrier Dome Monday night.
"This program wasn't built on quitting after losing one game," Thompson reminded in his postgame remarks.
And Ewing said: "The thing you can't do is take this into the next game. You have to deal with it the best way you can. What's that? Forget about it and move on."