If there were any lingering doubts about what Patrick Ewing blamed for Georgetown’s 97-94 overtime defeat to St. John’s on Saturday, the Hoyas' second-year coach cited it three times in his postgame remarks.
“We’ve got to learn how to close out games,” he said.
He made slight alterations in his choice of words in hammering home the point later, but the message was clear: His team should have secured victory in regulation before the Red Storm seized on the fortuitous opportunity in the extra period.
“We can’t keep making the mental mistakes that we do,” he added.
The Hoyas (11-4 overall) were on the verge of starting their Big East campaign with two victories in two tries when they faltered down the stretch of regulation.
Ahead by four, they fouled Shamorie Ponds with 15 seconds left in the second half. After Ponds made two free throws as part of a 37-point performance, Jahvon Blair got himself into trouble in the backcourt. L.J. Figueroa took the ball for one of his six steals and drew a foul.
Two more free throws with 11 seconds left and Blair’s missed three-pointer at the buzzer invited the Red Storm (14-1, 2-1) to extend its best start since the 1982-83 season and end a 13-game losing streak at the downtown D.C. arena, dating from 2003.
“They gave us a chance,” Ponds said, “and we capitalized.”
Last year, the Hoyas had survived a double-overtime scare by the visiting Red Storm.
This time, St. John’s built an eight-point lead in the bonus stanza and survived a late threat before an announced crowd of 11,115. The Hoyas had a chance to tie after Ponds faltered on one of two free throws with 23 seconds left, but James Akinjo and Blair missed three-point tries.
“We’ve got to just play,” Ewing said in lamenting the missed opportunity against a Big East contender and ending a four-game winning streak. “Everyone wants to just do it themselves instead of just moving the ball and making the right plays.”
Senior center Jessie Govan posted 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and Akinjo added 17 points and five assists for the Hoyas, who led by 11 in the first half and eight midway through the second.
Ponds, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, bolstered his national credentials by making 6 of 10 three-pointers and 11 of 21 overall in eclipsing 30 points for the fourth time this season. He also had six assists and four steals.
In addition to his career high in steals, Figueroa recorded 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Ponds and Figueroa figured into the pivotal moment of overtime, a spectacular back-and-forth display of aerial basketball.
With the Red Storm ahead by four, Ponds anticipated Akinjo’s lob in transition, leaping and stuffing the pass. St. John’s went the other way and Figueroa flipped an alley-oop pass to Justin Simon (14 points, nine rebounds, six assists) for a dunk with 1 minute 10 seconds to go.
The Red Storm shined in pressure moments, while the Hoyas failed to finish the job again. A month ago at Syracuse, they committed a turnover with 11 seconds left and conceded the winning basket with three ticks remaining.
“We’ve been in close games,” Ewing said. “We just have to find a way to close out the game.”
He did not make any players available to comment.
For the third consecutive game, the Hoyas were without starters Mac McClung (sprained left ankle) and Trey Mourning (concussion protocol). Ewing said both remain day-to-day ahead of Wednesday’s game at Xavier.
He added, however, “we’re deep enough that we should be able to withstand that against good teams. They are out, so other people have to get it done. For the most part, we got it done, but didn’t get it done all the way.”
Meantime, St. John’s won on the occasion of legendary coach Lou Carnesecca’s 94th birthday.
“I talked to [Carnesecca] before the game,” Red Storm Coach Chris Mullin said. “That’s all he wanted, was a win against Georgetown."
Mullin, the former St. John’s star in his fourth season, then described the feeling around the rejuvenated program, one seeking to rekindle the glory of the past, much like Georgetown under former superstar Ewing is angling to do.
“There is tremendous excitement, optimism and good feeling,” Mullin said. “It’s nice we’re a team the fan base has watched grow, they’ve watched them struggle, watched them improve and now have success. It’s kind of nice when it goes that way. It’s a genuine, authentic away to go about it. Sometimes painful, but that’s the way it goes.”