On Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the date read March 8, 2017, but it sure felt a lot more like 1985.
The St. John’s Red Storm and Georgetown Hoyas went blow-for-blow in a chippy, dramatic, and, at times, sloppy game in the Opening Round of the Big East Tournament, bringing back memories of the glory days of this once vicious rivalry.
In the end, it was the Red Storm who held on for the 74-73 victory, sealed by a pair of Georgetown misses at the rim as time expired. The win gives the Johnnies their first Big East Tournament win since 2011, but that will hardly be what people remember from this thriller.
The main drama on the night came midway through the second half, when a flagrant foul from Amar Alibegovic drew the ire of the Hoyas on the court. Georgetown’s Bradley Hayes shoved Alibegovic into the stands following the foul, and from there things only escalated.
Red Storm Head Coach Chris Mullin, upset with what had transpired moments earlier, ended up being held back as he screamed at the Georgetown bench, namely Hoyas Head Coach John Thompson III, and assistant coach Patrick Ewing Jr.
That’s right. Mullin, Thompson, and Ewing going at it at Madison Square Garden. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
Following the game, Mullin was seen speaking with Ewing Jr. When asked what the conversation was like, Mullin joked, “I asked him if he was gonna beat me up like his father did.”
Mullin and Ewing Jr. were each given technical fouls for their roles in the scrum, and from there the electricity in the Garden reached levels that this rivalry hasn’t seen in decades.
At the time the technicals were awarded, St. John’s led 59-55 with just over eight minutes remaining. Georgetown’s LJ Peak split his pair of free throws to make it a three-point game, the Red Storm’s Shamorie Ponds then drained a long triple that send St. John’s fans into a frenzy, while also setting the pace for the rest of the game.
Down the stretch, the Red Storm still led by six with 3:38 remaining after a thunderous dunk from Tariq Owens after a timeout, but this one just seemed destined to go down to the wire.
A 5-0 Hoyas run stretched over two minutes had them within one, 74-73, with 42 seconds remaining. Surprisingly enough, that would end up being the final score. St. John’s ran the clock down on their next possession, however Hayes blocked a Ponds layup to keep the Hoyas alive.
With just six seconds left, Peak drove to the basket, and with two seconds to go the senior went up for the final layup of his collegiate career. The shot rimmed out, and so did the ensuing put-back attempt from Marcus Derrickson at the buzzer. St. John’s had held on.
For the Red Storm Ponds ended up as the leading scorer with 17, despite a slow start. His performance in big spots likely has Red Storm fans even more excited for his future prospects in the Big East Tournament.
“It was amazing, the crowd, everything was amazing,” Ponds said. “I think this is the best tournament in the country.”
Bashir Ahmed added 14 of his own, while Malik Ellson was the unsung star of the night. His all-around game of 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists was huge, and it kept the Johnnies in the game, as they couldn’t seem to find the basket in the first half yet led 38-34 at halftime.
“It’s a relief, you know it was a big time win for us,” Ellison said. “Obviously there’s been a huge rivalry for the last 40 years. It was great that we came together as a team and got the victory.”
The Red Storm won’t have much time to celebrate their first Big East Tournament win in six years, they’ll be the first game in the Quarterfinal Round, tipping off against the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats tomorrow at noon.
“To me, we played tough. It was just an old-school type of game, both teams played hard,” Mullin said. “Tomorrow’s a turnaround and like I tell them all the time: get their rest and be able to come play.”