It's rare to see the Georgetown Hoyas play defense as well as they did last night and still lose. It almost never happens, in fact.
But the hot shooting that 11th-ranked Georgetown enjoyed in the last two weeks was only a memory as No. 10 St. John's rode Walter Berry's inside prowess and Ron Rowan's shooting to a 60-58 Big East victory before 16,093 at Capital Centre.
It was St. John's fourth straight victory over Georgetown at the Centre, and it ended the Hoyas' eight-game winning streak.
Georgetown's best chance to extend that streak, or at least to take the game into overtime, evaporated with 20 seconds left and St. John's ahead, 58-56. David Wingate tried to work his way inside for a bank shot but had the ball knocked away by St. John's guard Mark Jackson, who had made five other steals.
"I could have taken the shot," Wingate said, "but I wanted to get closer and take a bank shot. I just thought I could get a higher-percentage shot."
Jackson said he knew he was taking a chance when he left his position in the Redmen's zone and reached in to knock the ball away from Wingate.
A foul call would have put Wingate at the line and the Hoyas (19-4, 9-3 in the Big East) in a good position to win. "I went for the ball, but in that situation you have to take a risk," Jackson said. "I think he had a good shot (before the dribble), but he wanted to go inside."
Shelton Jones of St. John's made two of four free throws after the steal to ensure the victory for the Redmen (23-3, 10-2), who trailed early but somehow fought off Georgetown's relentless defensive pressure.
With less than three minutes remaining, the Hoyas' Perry McDonald intercepted a pass with Georgetown trailing by only one, 56-55. But Reggie Williams, who scored a team-high 18 points, shot an airball, which eventually allowed St. John's to reclaim a three-point lead. Williams said afterward that the man guarding him, Willie Glass, hit his elbow to force the airball, but no foul was called.
Berry, who suffered a sprained ankle Saturday against Boston College, said later he was surprised at his own effectiveness. The 6-foot-8 junior led all scorers with 22 points, 14 of them in the second half.
Berry missed several shots in a row midway through the second half as Georgetown took leads of seven and eight points. But Jackson and Rowan kept dumping the ball inside, and Berry would streak across the lane to drop it in, and in the process helped foul out Georgetown center Ralph Dalton with six minutes to play.
"We have to live and die with Walter Berry," Jackson said. "He's the best offensive weapon in the country. A few of his shots didn't fall, but we believe in him."
Still, Berry made just better than 50 percent of his shots (eight of 15), and Georgetown certainly couldn't fault its defensive effort. Ronnie Highsmith, a 6-foot-8 forward who usually is deep on the Hoyas' bench, came in to play a career-high 30 minutes and nearly smothered Berry with his defense.
"As any great player will do, Walter hit some spurts," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson, whose team lost to St. John's, 79-74, last month in New York. "But it wasn't defense that concerned me as much as we never got into the flow offensively, full court or half court."
The Hoyas couldn't get into a flow, largely because they couldn't hit their jump shots.
In the second halves of their three most recent games -- against Louisiana State, Connecticut and Seton Hall -- the Hoyas shot 71.4, 68, and 66.7 percent from the field, respectively.
Thompson wasn't as impressed as some by that hot shooting because most of it was coming from the perimeter. And no matter how well a team shoots, it can't do it every night.
Last night against St. John's, it stopped. Cold.
The Hoyas shot 44 percent for the game, 42 percent in the first half, when a couple of more jumpers could have buried the Redmen.
Williams made only seven of 17 shots from the field and Wingate seven of 15. When the Hoyas needed a jumper, none was there.
"We played some great defense," Horace Broadnax said. "We played defense like we did in the past (with Patrick Ewing).
"But we didn't get the offense when we needed it. At the end, we were a little hesitant. Reggie and Michael (Jackson) were smart in trying to get the ball inside, but we needed some offense."
The Hoyas certainly didn't get much from the front-court players. Dalton made two of his four shots; Berry blocked the other two.
Grady Mateen, the 6-10 sophomore, didn't take a shot, and neither did 6-8 freshman Johnathan Edwards. Highsmith took only three in 30 minutes, hitting two.
In that respect, the Hoyas seemed to be back in early January, when they were playing too much perimeter basketball and not looking inside enough. But even with the poor shooting, Georgetown threatened an early blowout.
The Hoyas' defensive press forced several quick turnovers. "Oooh, they were quick on defense tonight," said St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca. "They were attacking, they were aggressive."
And they were ahead, 29-22, after a steal by Michael Jackson and a feed to Wingate produced a soaring layup. A television timeout with 3:48 remaining in the first half gave St. John's a breather. Wingate stole the ball from Rowan at midcourt and went in for what looked like a layup and a nine-point lead.
But Redmen reserve forward John Hempel got in the way just enough to force Wingate to miss. And St. John's struggled back in into the game, 29-24, with a jumper by Rowan, who made seven of his 12 shots and scored 17 points.
"If they shoot any kind of percentage the first half, they're up 10 to 15 points (at halftime)," Carnesecca said. "They could have really taken us to the cleaners."