WASHINGTON — You could see it as Shamorie Ponds kept driving to the basket in the final minutes to get to the line and keep the game close. And you could see it when LJ Figueroa picked off a backcourt pass in the final desperate moments and made the tying free throws with 11.3 seconds left in regulation. And it was there again when Justin Simon opened overtime by swiping a pass and hitting Figueroa for a dunk on the break.
St. John’s had suffered through more than a decade of misery against archrival Georgetown in the nation’s capital, but it wasn’t going to let the ghosts of failures past haunt it this time. The Red Storm scored four points in the final 18.6 seconds of regulation to force overtime, scored on their first four possessions of the extra period to take an eight-point lead and defended a pair of potential tying three-pointers in the final 23 seconds to pull out a 97-94 Big East win on Saturday before 11,115 at Capital One Arena.
St. John’s (14-1, 2-1) halted a run of 13 straight road losses to the Hoyas with the win. The Red Storm hadn’t beaten Georgetown in D.C. since Jan. 18, 2003.
“Last year we kind of [went] down this road and we’d lose these games,” Ponds said. “We told ourselves it’s time to fight it out, overcome everything and get the win.”
Red Storm coach Chris Mullin called St. John’s Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca in the morning to wish him a happy 94th birthday and said, “It’s all he wanted: a win against Georgetown. I’m glad that happened for him.”
The victory over the Hoyas (11-4, 1-1), along with Tuesday’s trouncing of No. 16 Marquette in New York, likely puts the Red Storm in line for a national ranking when the AP poll is released on Monday.
Ponds had 37 points — his 10th 30-point effort — six assists and four steals. He also had what might have been the highlight play of the game when he anticipated an alley-oop pass by the Hoyas with less than two minutes left in OT, snared it on the way up and started a break that ended with a dunk by Simon.
Simon had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Mustapha Heron added 12 points and Marvin Clark II and Figueroa scored 11 points each for the Red Storm. Jessie Govan had 25 points and 10 rebounds, freshman James Akinjo scored 17 points and Josh LeBlanc added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Hoyas, who also had five players score in double figures.
Figueroa had six steals, and none was bigger than the one he made with 12 seconds left as St. John’s erased a four-point deficit in the final 18.6 seconds of regulation. Georgetown’s Jamorko Pickett had an open lane to a dunk that would have given the Hoyas a five-point lead, but Heron was called for his final foul, and Pickett made one of two free throws for an 85-81 edge. Ponds drove, got fouled and made two free throws with 15.2 seconds left. St. John’s trapped the ensuing inbounds pass and Figueroa made the steal and put up a shot. It went in but was ruled to have come after a foul on the floor.
Figueroa, a 57 percent free-throw shooter entering play, made both shots to tie it, and the Red Storm forced an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer from Jahvon Blair.
“We fight through adversity all the time, so you just have to knock down the two free throws and keep it moving,” Figueroa said of having his basket taken off the board. “I was calm, cool and collected on the line. My teammates had the confidence in me.”
St. John’s couldn’t have opened the overtime better. Simon’s steal and pass to Figueroa for an alley-oop dunk started a 9-1 run. Figueroa found Simon on the break for an alley-oop dunk on the next Red Storm possession. Ponds hit Clark for an open three-pointer on the next, and Figueroa hit Ponds in the paint for a layup on the one after that.
“They gave us a chance and we capitalized,” Ponds said. “We knew coming out of the gate [in OT], it would be who started out strong. We hit them in the mouth first and came out with the win.”
Added Simon: “We just felt like we had the momentum.”
Clark fouled out on a four-point play by Govan and, after Ponds’ spectacular steal ignited Simon’s dunk, Simon fouled out with 25.2 seconds left. Greg Malinowski made two free throws to get the Hoyas within 96-94.
After Ponds made one of two free throws, he, Figueroa, Bryan Trimble Jr., Greg Williams Jr. and Sedee Keita defended as the Hoyas missed two hotly contested three-point shots on the final possession.
“In overtime we played probably our best basketball,” Mullin said. “We executed offensively and [stopped] three or four looks at the end to tie it. It was a heck of a game.”