There was a moment yesterday when everyone watching surely leaned back, let his jaw go a bit slack and silently exclaimed: "St. John's up by what? Over Georgetown?"
"I thought that, too," one of the men who made it happen, Walter Berry, admitted. "Then the closer it got to the end I might have thought we didn't have it won. They kept comin' stronger every time."
Off court, minds got scrambled twice in the second half. Just when a semi-stunning upset started to become obvious, the equally-shocking possibility of the Hoyas crawling out of an 18-point hole and winning took shape.
How it seemed to wind up was this:
St. John's sort of won; Georgetown sort of lost.
So who's No. 1 now?
Not us, said the winning coach, Lou Carnesecca.
The defending NCAA champion should be first until it loses in the next NCAA tournament, Carnesecca insisted. He'll do anything to avoid the pressure of being ranked first, even smash logic to smithereens.
Looie, you're No. 1. The best in the Big East is better than the best in every other conference, it says here. So that made you better than No. 2 SMU, even before the Mustangs were upset last night by Texas Tech.
Take it and run.
Same as you told your players a few minutes before tipoff yesterday.
The notion that Georgetown just might be mortal after all came quickly. About the time most of the late-arriving customers began to thaw in Capital Centre, so did the Hoyas' press.
All-court chaos had been vital to Georgetown during that 29-game winning streak; St. John's swept through it as easily as wind in a ghost town.
Whoosh! There goes the inbounds pass from Chris Mullin to, say, Bill Wennington somewhere near midcourt. Whoosh! There goes the ball to a streaking Willie Glass or Berry.
"It's not that we could (beat the press)," said center Wennington. "It's that we had to. And once we beat it, we had to go all the way."
Layups and free throws are what the Redmen got off their hurry-up offense in the first several minutes. So well did the Redmen run, and draw fouls, that they missed nearly two of every three shots from the field the first half and still led by 10.
The idea was to attack Patrick Ewing in every way possible. Inside and on the break offensively, with Wennington's hips and everybody else's arms on defense.
Ewing only got seven shots for the game, or as many as reserve Horace Broadnax.
"We didn't want to get caught with lob passes," Wennington said, "so I played behind him all the time. And tried to force him as far from the basket as possible when he got the ball.
"I don't know if you noticed" -- he said this with a sly smile -- "but I tried to push him out of the lane. I wanted to make him have to dribble once, so someone else had a chance to strip him."
Sure enough, as soon as the ball arrived in Ewing's hands, a few other Redmen scurried to his side. Especially Mullin.
"Lots of help from my friends," Wennington said. "Lots of help. My job was to keep him from scoring the first second he touched the ball, so I'd get some help."
He gots lots of help from Berry, who, though foul-prone, was exceptional in his initial Big East efforts at scoring close-in against Ewing.
The two had gone against one another in the Olympic trials and Berry had said: "He doesn't intimidate me."
Ewing did swat away one of Berry's shots. But Berry survived. Once, he bounced a brick over Ewing's arms, and watched helplessly as Ewing also managed to grab the rebound.
Next possession, Berry figured the proper trajectory, tossed a shot over Ewing and increased the St. John's lead to 47-35.
"Play your game," Carnesecca kept preaching to each player. "Make it our game," he preached to the team.
The Big East schedule is both a help and a hindrance, he said.
"It can take its toll," Carnesecca said. "The pressure is unreal. But if you can go through this . . ."
His voice trailed off. Neither he nor his players were as animated as might be expected after such a victory. Except they rather expected it, having won three of the last four regular-season tests with Georgetown.
"We're better than everyone might have thought against presses," Berry said.
"Syracuse presses; BC presses; Villanova presses," Wennington said. "So we work on it a lot anyway, though you've got to work on more options with Georgetown."
Wennington's one on-court fluff had been the nearly impossible feat of missing an open slam-dunk. But he had forced Ewing either away from the ball, or to return several passes to teammates.
The one Redman who dearly would love to be ranked first this week is the aggressive Berry. He'll take anything to the hoop. His grin was the widest; his public confidence the surest.
"All this means," Carnesecca said, "is that we'll start all over again next game."
He appreciated what had been accomplished, then realized what was ahead and threw up his hands.
"Who's No. 1?" the thoughtful Wennington wondered. "I really don't care. Let Georgetown be No. 1. It doesn't mean anything now anyway. Only time it matters is after the NCAAs."
For all the fuss, this was a get-acquainted game for both teams. In a month, they will meet again. Very likely, they will meet after that, in the Big East tournament. And possibly once more, in the NCAA tournament.
It'll be fun tagging along.