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Georgetown Holds Off St. John’s, 89-78

Trailing by two with just over a minute to go, St. John’s saw a 3-pointer and a flurry of potential game-tying tip-ins narrowly miss their target, as Georgetown held on for an 89-78 victory at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.

St. John’s (15-5, 3-5 BIG EAST) had trailed by as many as 10 in the second half before making it one-possession game in the closing minutes.

Shamorie Ponds eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the sixth straight game, scoring a team-high 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go along with six rebounds, three assists and two steals. The junior guard from Brooklyn also moved into 10th place on the program’s all time scoring chart surpassing Tony Jackson (1,603 points).

Three other Johnnies finished in double figures, led by Mustapha Heron with 18 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes of action.

LJ Figueroa added 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go along with six rebounds, four steals and three assists, while Marvin Clark II chipped in 12 points.

Freshman Mac McClung, who missed the Red Storm’s last outing against the Hoyas earlier this month, led Georgetown (13-7, 3-4 BIG EAST) with 25 points, five rebounds and five assists. Jessie Govan fell just short of a double-double with 20 points and nine boards.

The two teams traded blows throughout the opening stanza, as the first half featured 10 ties and eight lead changes in the first 15 minutes of action. From there, the Hoyas opened up a six-point lead on three occasions down the stretch, but the Johnnies answered each time before entering the locker room with a four-point deficit at 41-37.

The Red Storm led by a pair, 24-22, near the midway mark of the half before a 10-2 Georgetown run gave the Hoyas the first of those six-point edges. St. John’s went 4:39 without a field goal during that stretch.

The Johnnies kicked off the second half with a 5-0 spurt, as a Figueroa trey and a Heron layup allowed the Red Storm to reclaim the lead for the first time since the 8:30 mark of the opening stanza.

With the game tied at 50 and four minutes gone in the period, Georgetown rattled off a 10-0 tear to take its largest lead of the game, 60-50. The Hoyas held the Red Storm off the board for nearly four minutes.

After falling behind by double digits for the first time, the Red Storm cut its deficit to five on five occasions before pulling any closer, as a Sedee Keita layup on a dish from Ponds brought the Johnnies within three, 75-72, with four minutes to go.

Georgetown built its lead back to six, 79-73, with two minutes to go, but two Ponds free throws, a Hoyas turnover and another Ponds bucket cut the Red Storm deficit to a pair with 1:45 to play.

Still trailing by two with just over a minute remaining on the clock, Figueroa launched a triple from the left wing that rimmed out. Keita and Justin Simon each came away with a good look at a put back, but both of their tries resulted in Georgetown’s favor. The Hoyas got out in transition off Simon’s miss before McClung threw down a dunk, starting a game-ending stretch that saw Georgetown balloon its lead to 11.

The Red Storm will play its next three contests on the road, two of which will come against opponents currently ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. The Johnnies begin their trip at Creighton on Wednesday night before traveling to No. 2 Duke on Saturday and No. 12 Marquette the following Tuesday.

St. John’s will return to Madison Square Garden on Feb 9, as they host Providence in a game that is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.

QUOTES: St. John’s vs. Georgetown

St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin

On if it’s been challenging to build chemistry with this team:
“I don’t think so. We’re 15-5 and quite frankly I think Georgetown played a hell of a game. They made some tough shots. They got their confidence up and it carried them. The last five minutes of the game I thought we played great complementary, unselfish, hustling defense. We had a couple of tip-ins that could’ve tied the game. Would have liked to play a little bit better in the first half. These [BIG EAST] games are all tight. They all come down to one or two possessions. The flow of the game is going to come and go. Georgetown may feel like they should’ve won by 20. We’ll regroup and play well for the rest of the season like we have.”

On the team’s perimeter defense:
“I think you’ll look at some of [Georgetown’s 3-point field goals], and they made some NBA threes that we played them pretty close. Sometimes good offense beats good defense. That’s the difference in this game. [Georgetown] made 13 threes. There were a few that I thought were tough shots. I thought they played a really good game. I think we didn’t play our best but with a minute and a half left to go, we were in pretty good position to take the lead but we didn’t. That’s the way sports are.”

On the opportunity the team has these next three games:
“These are great opportunities. What else would you rather do. We’re gonna go to Creighton and play in a packed house. [Should be] a close game. We’re gonna go to Duke. I haven’t been there since 1981 when I visited there so I’m excited about that. Then we play Marquette, one of the best offenses in the country. What else would you rather do than that? If you’re not excited about that, jeez. Every day is an opportunity.”

St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds

On where the team stands after today’s loss:
“I don’t know honestly. I think we have to regroup and get back to our winning ways.”

On what’s changed over the last two weeks:
“I have to look back at the film. I feel like as a team we’re parting ways. We’re not as together as we were in the beginning.”

On processing where the team is now after starting the season 12-0:
“I wouldn’t say we’re desperate. Like Mustapha [Heron] said, we have to take it one game at a time. We know that we have a tough three-game stretch coming up. We know that we can win these games. We just have to get back to winning ways.”

St. John’s guard Mustapha Heron

His thoughts on the sequence with the unsuccessful tip-ins to tie the game:
“We were fighting back and playing hard. We tried to get the tip-in. We couldn’t. That’s definitely a shot that we’ll live with when taking because we know we can make that shot. We make that shot and it’s a different game.”

On how the team will approach the rest of the games this season:
“One game at a time. We’ll try and win every one. We go to all of these different places and we’ll pay attention to the scout. Pay attention to what we have to do and play our game.”

On if the last possession should’ve produced points:
“Yeah it should’ve. At the end of the day, it doesn’t come down to one possession. We came out in the first half and we had some spurts where we were just going through the motions. We put ourselves in that position so that one possession is what it is. It could’ve gone either way.”

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