NEW YORK — Four days after suffering its worst loss in nearly four decades, the Georgetown men’s basketball team averted a crisis of confidence and redeemed itself with a resounding victory at Madison Square Garden, defeating longtime rival St. John’s, 67-51.
And the Hoyas did so without their second-leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore forward Greg Whittington, who didn’t make the trip to New York after violating a team rule. Coach John Thompson III said afterward that he hadn’t determined whether Whittington, who had started all 13 games and was averaging 12.1 points and seven rebounds per outing, would miss more than one game for his infraction.
But with Otto Porter Jr. accounting for a game-high 19 points and 14 rebounds, Markel Starks scoring 17 and reserves D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (10 rebounds, eight points), Aaron Bowen and Moses Ayegba making spirited contributions, his absence wasn’t pivotal.
“You lose a couple games, and sometimes you feel like you’re never going to win another game,” Thompson said. “But our guys responded today up and down the line. Each and every person that was called upon did their part.”
Despite Saturday’s 11 a.m. tipoff, there wasn’t a sluggish Hoya on the court. All were active on defense, and four players scored in the first four minutes to stake Georgetown to a 9-4 lead.
Said Porter: “As a team, we just have to come together and step up to carry the load. It’s a team effort.”
The Hoyas, who shot 44 percent, never trailed and pushed the tempo throughout. The quicker pace was something Thompson had hoped to see. Georgetown’s dominance on the boards — the Hoyas outrebounded St. John’s, 48-33 — made it possible.
“We got stops and got rebounds, which allows us to get the ball to our guys in transition,” Thompson said. “And our guys made good decisions on when to attack and when to slow it down.”
It was a sorely needed victory, averting what would have been Georgetown’s first 0-3 start in Big East play since the 1998-99 season. But the prospects of a bounce back looked grim when Georgetown officials announced roughly an hour before tip-off that Whittington wouldn’t play.
His spot in the starting lineup was filled by 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Jabril Trawick, the team’s most energetic defender. Trawick asserted himself on offense 40 seconds in, driving to the rim for a dunk.
Smith-Rivera came in for Trawick and scored within seconds. And Thompson continued to substitute often, sending in Ayegba for Mikael Hopkins, who shared the daunting task of guarding the nation’s top shot-blocker, St. John’s 6-9 freshman center Chris Obekpa, who rejected six Hoya shots (five in the first half alone).
Starks hit his second three-pointer of the game to extend Georgetown’s lead to 22-8 with 10 minutes 52 seconds remaining in the first half, prompting a St. John’s timeout. It was as many points as the Hoyas had scored in their entire first half against Pitt.
As Porter took a quick breather, Bowen struck from long range to make it 27-8. At that point, Georgetown was shooting 58 percent; St. John’s, clearly flummoxed by the Hoyas’ zone defense, 29 percent. And when Porter grabbed an offensive rebound and followed with a putback to make it 33-10, irate St. John’s fans unleashed their frustration.
“Let’s go, guys! Come on!” one ticket-holder bellowed.
“It looks like a girls’ game!” shouted another.
St. John’s (9-7, 1-3) closed the period on a 9-3 run to pare Georgetown’s lead to 36-19 at the break. But Georgetown’s defense stood tall until the final minutes, when Jamal Branch starting hitting from long range and helped pare what had been a 26-point lead to 16.