St. John's 70,
Georgetown's gritty run through the National Invitation Tournament ended tonight the way so many earlier games had. This one hinged on what seemed a too-hurried three-pointer by swingman Gerald Riley with 9.8 seconds left that missed -- and St. John's escaped with a 70-67 victory and its sixth NIT title.
"It was a little rushed, not a good look," Riley said. "I saw [the defender] didn't have his hand up, so I shot. I didn't get what I wanted."
St. John's forward Grady Reynolds grabbed his 14th rebound off the Riley miss, and point guard Elijah Ingram sank two free throws with 4.1 seconds left for the game's final points. Georgetown's Tony Bethel cut through to the middle of the court on the subsequent inbounds pass, but his off-balance 35-footer at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and the rim.
Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick called a timeout with 10 seconds left and said there were three options: Riley slipping off a double screen, power forward Mike Sweetney sliding toward the basket off a pick or Bethel breaking free. Inbounder Drew Hall went with the first option, and Riley shot within about a half-second.
"Gerald has won or tied a lot of games this season," Esherick said. "I want him to take that shot. I'll definitely live with that shot."
The Hoyas (19-15) had won four NIT games, and Esherick almost certainly will get the contract extension that has been in the works for months.
"It'll happen," Athletic Director Joe Lang said before the game. "Sooner rather than later."
St. John's took the lead for good, 68-67, on Marcus Hatten's free throw with 67 seconds left. The Georgetown troubles were Red Storm spurts at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second.
The Hatten-Sweetney offensive fireworks started on the game's first possession, when Hatten sank a three from the left wing and followed that with an even longer one from the right baseline next time down the court. Sweetney (25 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks) countered with a jumper from the top of the key, a put-back and a dunk off a pass from Victor Samnick.
That caused St. John's Coach Mike Jarvis to insert seldom used 7-foot-2, 332-pound Curtis Johnson. But Johnson picked up two fouls in about 90 seconds, and shortly after he had retreated to the bench Riley sank two free throws that extended Georgetown's lead to 20-16.
Hatten kept shooting, but failed to score for more than 15 minutes after those two long-range shots. But his and other Red Storm misses frequently were grabbed by forward Kyle Cuffe -- and Cuffe converted them into four baskets. That helped St. John's to avoid a double-digit deficit. And when Hatten finally scored again, on a three-pointer with 3:10 left, the Red Storm pulled within three.
Freshman forward Brandon Bowman scored the final eight points before halftime for the Hoyas, on a drive from the right baseline, a dunk off a lob from Bethel and four free throws. Hatten sank a double-pump eight-footer after two Ingram foul shots and Georgetown headed for intermission with a 38-34 lead.
St. John's beat the Hoyas at home in mid-January, in large part because its late full-court press forced scads of turnovers. In the first half tonight, Georgetown had it solved.
Sweetney's five first-half blocks were just two shy of his career high.
Four-plus minutes into the second half, Hatten lifted the Red Storm into a 39-38 lead with a left-handed drive and a three from the left wing that forced Esherick into a timeout.
Hoyas Notes: There has been talk this season of Sweetney leaving Georgetown early and entering the NBA draft. Tonight, he intimated he was planning on staying at Georgetown. "Right now, [I'm staying]," Sweetney said. "Right now, I just have my mind set on going back to school and finishing my work." . . . Next season Georgetown will start a home-and-home series with Penn State on the road.