NEW YORK — This time, there was no applause for Patrick Ewing as he walked off the court at Madison Square Garden, no stray fans in New York Knicks jerseys straining to get a picture of the 11-time NBA all-star as he crossed half court to clasp hands with his good friend and former rival Chris Mullin.
By the time his second trip to the Garden as Georgetown men’s basketball coach had ended, Ewing had become simply another coach to the crowd that had come to watch the Hoyas’ 88-77 first-round loss to St. John’s in the Big East tournament. He was now a rival to root against in earnest, to regard with less and less fanatical reverence each time they saw him.
Even Mullin, whose ninth-seeded Red Storm (16-16) defeated the Hoyas in the first round of the Big East tournament for the second year in a row, seemed to provide cheeky anecdotes about his and Ewing’s storied past only out of a sense of obligation.
By now, Mullin said, the delight of standing across the court from Ewing as a coach had worn off.
“I’d rather coach against him than play against him,” Mullin said, with a small smile. “Easier on the body.”
Georgetown (15-15) — which probably saw the first season of the Ewing era end, barring an invitation to a second-tier postseason tournament — suffered from the same flaws that have dogged the Hoyas all year: After a quick first-half burst, Georgetown grew complacent in the second half. Poor ball security led to 19 St. John’s points off 14 Hoyas turnovers. Georgetown lost offensive rhythm in the second half, and not enough players aside from Jessie Govan (28 points, 11 rebounds) and Marcus Derrickson (20 points, eight rebounds) stepped up to fill in the gap.
“They probably wanted it more,” Georgetown sophomore guard Jagan Mosely said. “It was definitely energy plays. We obviously thought we could’ve won this game.”
The Big East’s leading scorer, Shamorie Ponds, led the way for the Red Storm with 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting in his first game since Feb. 24 after missing time because of an abdominal strain.
Ponds, who came into the game averaging 21.6 points, led five scorers in double figures as St. John’s shot 53 percent from the field. Wednesday’s game had the biggest scoring gap between the teams all season — Georgetown won the first matchup by three points (marking Ewing’s second Big East win) and the second by four points in double overtime.
If this marked the end of the Hoyas’ season — they are not expected to receive a bid to a postseason tournament — then it ended with a dismal five-game losing streak, although in his first season, Ewing probably won’t face the same harsh questions a veteran college coach might.
There were warts on the season — late-game execution was a concern as the Hoyas lost six conference games by five points or fewer and eight games overall by eight points or fewer — but both Ewing and opposing coaches could see a transformation as the season progressed.
“He’s done a tremendous job in his first year, not only record-wise, but I think the way they play, the type of team they are,” Mullin said. “To me, it resembles him. They’re aggressive, unselfish, they work hard, and he’s very demanding. That’s who he is.”
Fans saw three freshmen turn a corner during league play, a development highlighted by Jamorko Pickett, who had an uncharacteristically quiet game Wednesday with just two points and three turnovers. Still, the wing was a recruiting win for Ewing from the start — Pickett chose Georgetown over Maryland — and by January he was rewarding Ewing’s belief in him, especially from the three-point line.
Pickett didn’t play fewer than 22 minutes after the Jan. 20 game against St. John’s and had just four games after that in which he didn’t score in double figures.
Already established players grew as well, notably Govan and Derrickson, who became versatile offensive threats under the tutelage of a coach who believes in sending the ball down low on offense as much as possible. On Wednesday, both said they would be back for their senior seasons.
But Ewing had little room for anything other than disappointment after this game as somber faces met him in a silent locker room.
“Right now it’s hard to reflect on it,” Ewing said. “I just have a bitter taste in my mouth right now. So I’m going to take a couple days and reflect. Depending on what happens, see if we’re going to get a chance to continue to play and then reflect on it and see — and make that decision. But right now it’s hard to say.”
With a Ratings Percentage Index number of 148 in part because of an extremely light nonconference season, it is unlikely the Hoyas will be invited to the National Invitational Tournament, but Ewing said he will accept if they get a bid.
Govan, a vocal team leader this season, gave the team a parting shot of optimism Ewing wasn’t able to muster.
“It’s going to be a big offseason for all of us,” Govan said, “trying to come back and really take the Big East by storm.”