The sentiment associated with first-year St. John’s coach Chris Mullin renewing his old rivalry with Georgetown was unavoidable Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. But the reality is that both programs are far removed of those glory days in 1985 when they and Villanova turned the Final Four into the Big East Tournament II.
Hoyas coach John Thompson III hasn’t matched his father’s success, but he’s had time to build a program and populate it with players like D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who scored 33 points and helped Georgetown dominate an undermanned Red Storm team, 93-73.
Sizing up the situation faced by Mullin, who took over a team with three returning reserves and had to recruit the rest of the roster in about 90 days, Thompson said, “It’s Year One for Chris, and within that year, they’ve had some bad breaks. There’s a lot of year ahead of him. They played hard for 40 minutes.”
Actually, the St. John’s (7-11, 0-5 Big East) didn’t match some of its previous efforts during a losing streak that reached eight games on the one-month anniversary of the Red Storm’s last win against Syracuse. The Red Storm shot only 28.6 percent from the field in the first half and fell behind 45-28 at halftime. Ron Mvouika led the Red Storm with 15second-half points, and they got 12 from Amar Alibegovic, 11 from Federico Mussini and 10 from Durand Johnson.
“We were sleep-walking,” Johnson said of the slow start. “Those guys [Hoyas] got comfortable and made shots.”
Without injured center Yankuba Sima available to block shots and get offensive rebounds to generate more shot attempts, St. John’s found it difficult to contain Georgetown (11-6, 4-1), which shot 51.9 percent and got 15 points from Reggie Cameron and 12 from Tre Campbell to complement Smith-Rivera.
Still, the Red Storm cut a 27-point second-half deficit to 14 toward the end with a show of spirit, but the mounting losses are tough to take. “It’s tough because you feel the whole world is coming down on your shoulders,” Mvouika said. “But I’ve still got faith in my guys. We’re going to break through.”
Mullin turned philosophical at the mention of his old rivalry with Georgetown. “It’s so long ago that I’d have to be shown it on tape, and I don’t even know if they have tape of it,” he joked. “I think it will develop . . . There’s nothing more I would love to see when we play here or at Georgetown than a packed house, both teams thriving. Then, they might be able to remember something. Didn’t bring back memories today, though.”
Asked how long he expects the love and support of St. John’s fans to last for the school’s greatest basketball hero, Mullin said, “I don’t look for a pass. That’s not intimidating to me; it’s not fair or unfair. I do think we’ll get there. I don’t pay attention to someone else’s expectations or timeline. Do a hard day’s work, and if you keep doing that, even a slow guy who can’t jump can do okay.”