St. John's 77, Georgetown 72

The last time Georgetown played at MCI Center Craig Esherick was loud and fiery, railing against the officiating after a thrilling victory in overtime. He was quiet and shaken yesterday, trying to explain one of the worst defeats in recent memory, 77-72, to an ordinary St. John's team after blowing a 12-point lead in the final four-plus minutes.

"We gave away a game . . . fell apart," said Esherick, who walked past several sarcastic fans as he left the court. "We could not handle their full-court pressure. . . . This is going to be a tough game to recover from."

Georgetown (9-4, 1-2 Big East) had played splendidly for stretches in the second half of the conference test. Then came a meltdown that included 11 turnovers in the final 10 minutes and a wonderful performance by Red Storm guard Marcus Hatten, who tied his career high with 34 points.

"It's like we're back to our old stages," Georgetown power forward Mike Sweetney said, "making mental mistakes at the end of games."

Sweetney was referring to the Hoyas losing four games in overtime and two others by a point each last season. They had survived a late-game collapse against West Virginia to win in overtime Sunday in their last home game, then played so poorly two days later in a 14-point loss at Seton Hall that Esherick did not bother to show the players the game tape.

A combination of aggressive defense, which included keeping the ball from Hatten, and good work on offense by Sweetney, Gerald Riley and center Wesley Wilson provided a 16-point lead yesterday with 7 minutes 23 seconds left and that 12-point advantage three minutes later.

"As a team, sometimes we tend to relax when we get up," guard Tony Bethel said. "We've got to go harder the whole 40 minutes."

The Hoyas committed mistake after mistake against full-court pressure. Hatten scored 19 of the final 30 points for St. John's, which turned a 12-point deficit into a one-point lead in three minutes.

"It happened too late for them to recover," said St. John's Coach Mike Jarvis, who notched the 350th victory of his career and remained unbeaten in five games against the Hoyas. "Marcus Hatten is the best player in America [6 feet 1] and under, and one of the best guards."

The pivotal Georgetown turnovers were team-wide, from point guard Drew Hall to Bethel to Riley to Sweetney to Victor Samnick to freshman forward Brandon Bowman. The Hoyas scored just five points in the last 4 minutes 22 seconds.

For St. John's (9-5, 2-2), Hatten was thrilling. He hit a three-pointer that tied the score at 69, a fast-break layup after Sweetney's errant pass that lifted the Red Storm to a one-point lead it later held and extended in the last 87 seconds. Also, Hatten once left Bethel flat-footed by dribbling the ball behind his back and sailing down the lane for a layin.

But Hatten had end-game help, from forward Willie Shaw's layin and free throw after catching the Hoyas napping on an inbounds pass and point guard Elijah Ingram, who hit a long three-pointer during the Red Storm's run. Hatten said he gained more energy from Georgetown fans seeming so confident when Riley fouled out with four minutes left after defending him well.

"The crowd started talking," Hatten said, "and I told the referee: 'Man, they're going to make me win the game.' "

Hall cut the St. John's lead to a point with 27 seconds left on two free throws. But after two free throws by Hatten, Ingram stole the ball from Hall near midcourt and hit 1 of 2 foul shots after being hit by Bethel. Bowman then was called for a charge on a baseline drive with eight seconds left.

For the Hoyas, the back-to-back losses were especially dispiriting because neither Seton Hall nor St. John's seems among the upper-tier conference teams. Yet to come are two games each against No. 3 Pittsburgh, No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 25 Syracuse. The immediate concern is Rutgers (8-6, 0-2), which will come to MCI Center on Monday, and Esherick said: "I still think we have a good team. . . . We still have a lot of games left."

Hoyas Note: As part of a celebration for Martin Luther King Day, Georgetown started an annual John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award, and Thompson was honored as the first recipient at halftime yesterday.

St. John's guard Marcus Hatten drives past Georgetown's Victor Samnick to score two of his game-high 34 points, as the Red Storm overcame a 16-point deficit in the final eight minutes.