NEW YORK — From the venue to the uniforms to the thrilling finish, Georgetown Coach Patrick Ewing’s first game against his college archrival-turned-close friend, St. John’s Coach Chris Mullin, seemed like an exercise in nostalgia Tuesday night.
Ewing, making his return to the place where he cemented his basketball legacy, left Madison Square Garden triumphant after the Hoyas beat the Red Storm, 69-66. Queens native Jessie Govan hit a three-pointer to break a tie with 25 seconds left, and point guard Jonathan Mulmore capped the win with a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to go. St. John’s missed its final shot, a three-point attempt from Shamorie Ponds.
The drama provided a fitting end for the 109th entry in the historic series, which overflowed with reminiscence even before the players did their part and gave fans a tightly contested game that recalled, if not in quality then in effort, those contests between Mullin and Ewing in the 1980s.
“It feels good. As you know, I’ve had a lot of great memories here,” Ewing said.
“I’ve had ups and downs and have a lot of good and bad memories against [Mullin], but it was good to be back. And the game, it was like old times. It was a knock-down, drag-out fight. It was one of those ugly games, and I’m just glad we got the win.”
Georgetown (12-4, 2-3 Big East) snapped the Red Storm’s two-game winning streak in the series and bounced back from a decisive home loss to Creighton on Saturday before it heads to No. 13 Seton Hall this weekend.
But as Ewing walked off the court with a smile and a wave for the few fans who had waited until after his postgame radio interview to scream out his name from the upper deck, he couldn’t help but reminisce.
The nostalgia in the air was inescapable: Tuesday’s game was Ewing’s first as a head coach at the Garden, where his No. 33 New York Knicks jersey hangs in the rafters. And at least two towering monuments to the “old” Big East conference had watched him work, as former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca looked on from the stands and former Seton Hall coach Bill Raftery worked on the broadcast team for Fox Sports 1.
“. . . It’s just a surreal and unique circumstance, you know, 30 years later,” Mullin said of Tuesday’s atmosphere.
Georgetown had even chosen to wear its alternate, teal-colored uniforms — a similar color to what the Hoyas wore during the 1982 national championship game.
The game drew an announced crowd of 9,406 that rocked throughout the lower section of the Garden and rumbled even after Govan — who had his own small cheering section of 30 — hit his late three-pointer.
“I definitely wanted that shot,” the center said. “We’re in the Garden, and I’m back home — I definitely wanted to make it. I’m glad I made it.”
The Hoyas were led by Govan and forward Marcus Derrickson, both of whom bounced back from their worst performances of the season against Creighton. Derrickson set the tone early, muscling his way to 11 points in the first half against the pressure defense of St. John’s (10-7, 0-5) and finishing with 17 points on 5-for-11 shooting including two three-pointers in 37 minutes.
Govan had game highs of 18 points and 13 rebounds, while sophomore guard Jagan Mosely was the critical third scorer and had 13 points off the bench and five assists (to six turnovers).
The game featured a bevy of missed layups and poor shots, but the Hoyas came out on top in a contest that went down to the wire for the first time this season.
Ponds led St. John’s, which lost its fifth straight, with 17 points on 5-for-15 shooting, and Justin Simon had 16. Marvin Clark finished with 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds, and Tariq Owens had eight blocks.
Georgetown squandered double-digit leads in the second half in conference losses against Syracuse and Butler earlier this season, and there was some danger of another letdown Tuesday. The Hoyas had led by seven with less than five minutes remaining, but after things tightened they had allowed St. John’s to collect the offensive rebound on its final possession after Ponds’s missed three-pointer as the clock wound down. The buzzer sounded before the Red Storm could get another shot off.
“If we had lost that game I was going to be kicking them in the butt,” Ewing said. “. . . Thank God the time ran out.”
Ewing ended the night joking around with his old reporter friends who had come out to cover his return. Mullin ended it by congratulating Govan, a fellow New Yorker, greeting him with a firm handshake and a wide smile.
“Someone asked me today, ‘What’s the chance you would have thought this would happen?’ ” Mullin said during his news conference. “I said, ‘Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be here in 2018, coaching St. John’s, against Patrick Ewing, coaching Georgetown.’ ”