Boiled to the essence, Georgetown's problems after two winless Big East Conference games are offense early and defense late. Any corrections must be swift, because the Hoyas will follow Saturday's discouraging overtime home loss to Seton Hall with what figured to be their most difficult test in early league play--tonight's game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

The thought of three straight first-half clankathons surely has entered Coach Craig Esherick's mind, because the Red Storm plays exceptional defense with one of the smallest teams in the league. Esherick thought two such displays would be impossible.

The Hoyas made 20 percent of their shots in the first half of the league opener Wednesday against Providence.

They fell behind by 19 points but rallied to take a one-point lead before losing, 55-48.

"We're not going to shoot 20 percent again the rest of the season," Esherick said the afternoon before the Hoyas played Seton Hall. "I guarantee it."

What happened? The Hoyas shot 20 percent in the first half (7 for 35). They had 16 offensive rebounds during that stretch but could manage just five field goals.

Once again, Georgetown recovered and gained the lead--two leads, in fact, with three-plus minutes left in regulation and with 94 seconds remaining in the extra period.

Each time, the Pirates closed those advantages with relative ease and eventually won, 65-62.

"We've got to keep going, keep our heads up," point guard Kevin Braswell said.

On Saturday, the endgame frustration for the Hoyas (8-5, 0-2 Big East) included giving up a layup for the basket that forced overtime and a layup that put Seton Hall ahead for good.

Esherick did not blame anyone specifically, but said: "We played three freshmen [guard Demetrius Hunter and forwards Courtland Freeeman and Victor Samnick] a lot at the end. No way I'm going to fault any freshmen for anything that we did."

Generally, Freeman and Samnick played well. Seton Hall freshman Samuel Dalembert blocked several shots by center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje, who was 2 for 11 from the field; Freeman had 10 points in 15 minutes and Samnick had 18 points and 15 rebounds.

How Esherick deploys those freshmen and his entire lineup tonight will be intriguing, because St. John's is so small and uses a six-man rotation almost exclusively.

"St. John's is extremely mobile," Esherick said. "As mobile as we'll see."

The Red Storm (10-2, 2-0) has been impressive in conference games, playing as well in the first half against Pittsburgh on Jan. 3 as Georgetown played poorly against Providence.

All Coach Mike Jarvis could say during a conference call the day after that 82-58 victory was: "I hope one of these nights we can do that for 40 minutes."

That didn't happen Saturday against West Virginia in Wheeling, but point guard Erick Barkley and swingman Lavor Postell each had 26 points during an 86-74 victory.

Barkley hit four three-pointers in his third straight game of 20 or more points, and Postell was 7 for 13 and made all 10 foul shots.

The Red Storm has six players who average at least 24 minutes and average double figures in points. St. John's had hoped that 6-foot-11 freshman Jack Wolfinger would provide size and depth, but the NCAA Clearinghouse on Friday declared him ineligible for the season.