St. John's head coach Rick Pitino leaves the court after...

St. John's head coach Rick Pitino leaves the court after a game against the Georgetown Hoyas at Capital One Arena on Wednesday in Washington. Credit: Nick Wass

WASHINGTON — If St. John’s is able to steer its season back on course — a formidable task after a stretch of eight losses in 10 games — the Red Storm may look back on the past few days as a sort of turning point.

St. John’s and Pitino became a national story after Sunday’s loss to visiting Seton Hall because of his coarse words and critique of his team. He thought it was something that had been blown out of proportion until his wife gave him some perspective. Then he went back and apologized to his team.

On Wednesday night, they emerged on the other side by eking out a 90-85 Big East win over Georgetown before a sparse 4,839 at Capital One Arena. The Red Storm (15-12, 7-9) ended a three-game losing streak with their first conference road win since the Jan. 6 victory at Villanova after dropping five of them in a row.

“I went home talked to my wife and came back and I said to my staff, ‘The guys, any of them upset?’” Pitino said. “They said a couple [had] their feelings hurt. So I immediately went into team and told them ‘I absolutely love you guys. I would never ever want to embarrass you. It’s my bad. — I’m at fault. I should never have mentioned anybody by name. I didn’t mean it.’”

The Hall of Fame coach didn’t stop there. He explained that he wasn’t blaming the lack of success on his assistant coaches. And he also apologized to the fans.

“My staff did not recruit these guys — it was all me . . . I wanted them,” Pitino said. “I also want to apologize to any St. John’s fan — they have treated me like royalty. If any of them was taken aback, it was not my intention.”

The Red Storm looked like they were traveling the same road they had in so many of their difficult losses. They built a 21-point lead in the first half and then saw it whittled to 39-32 with an awful handful of minutes before the intermission. In several losses, including Sunday’s to Seton Hall, big first-half leads shrank with poor play in the final few minutes before the break.

The Hoyas closed the half with an 18-4 run. But St. John’s managed to hold off every second-half charge — including one that got it to a one-possession game in the final minute — and send the Hoyas (8-18, 1-14) to their eleventh consecutive loss.

Georgetown’s Wayne Bristol Jr. made a three-pointer from the corner with 43 seconds to play to get the lead down to 84-81. The Hoyas pressed and the Storm broke it with a throw over the top to Joel Soriano just over half court. He found a cutting RJ Luis Jr. for a dunk to get St. John’s out of immediate danger. When Jayden Epps’ three-pointer missed the mark on the ensuing possession, Soriano got the rebounds, was fouled and made two free throws to make the lead 88-81 with 16 seconds left.

“I was a little exciting [with] the back and forth,” said Luis, who had 19 points on 9-for-15 shooting. “It was just not being scared at the moment. I feel like at the last couple of games you had like a big lead and players became a little hesitant . . . instead of just playing basketball how we started in the first half.”

Daniss Jenkins had 15 points, Chris Ledlum 12 points and Soriano 10 points plus 10 rebounds. Epps scored 31 for the Hoyas.

Pitino said that in every timeout, he brought the message ‘don’t play not to lose — play to win’ and as result, “we didn’t milk the clock, we kept punching the basket. That’s what you have to do to win on the road.”

“It’s just a reminder not to play with fear of losing a lead,” said Jordan Dingle, who had a season-high 22 points. “It kind of calms the storm a little bit and just helps us get back to doing the things that got us up in the first place.”

Pitino’s apology to the team also seemed to calm a storm.

“We know how much he loves us . . . . so I don’t think guys really took it too much to heart, but there was a lot of talk about it, obviously,” Dingle said. “I think that it brought us a lot closer together . . . and we played more connected.

“All we have is all we need.”

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