WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two losses couldn’t be more different.
Four days after being embarrassed at Madison Square Garden by Cincinnati, 76-54, St. John’s gave No. 11 Georgetown everything it could handle, on the road, before finally succumbing 71-61.
“I think we could have won that game,” St. John’s forward Moe Harkless said afterward.
He’s right. After trailing 31-26 at intermission, the Red Storm cut it to a one-possession game -- trailing by either two or three points -- seven different times during the second half. But six of those seven times, the Hoyas answered immediately with a score of their own.
St. John’s had just one shot to tie it, a Phil Greene 3-point attempt with 8:48 remaining. But it didn’t go down. The Red Storm battled back time and time again, but could never quite get over the hump.
“How we were gonna come back from our last loss at the Garden was most important to the [coaching] staff,” St. John’s interim coach Mike Dunlap said. “And [we] definitely looked organized, guys did their job, and the defense by and large was really tough. [Georgetown] made some tough 3’s, and they were deep 3’s, and we said that’s the poison we were gonna pick.”
“We got to the free throw line and played our style of basketball today, and we really took a step forward after reeling after a couple of games,” Dunlap added. “Our [postgame] talk to our players was very upbeat.”
This was an very well-played basketball game, on both sides, worthy of the storied St. John’s-Georgetown rivalry. The two teams only had 14 turnovers between them (eight by the Hoyas, six by the Red Storm). Both squads competed extremely hard, at both ends of the floor.
But only Georgetown (19-5, 9-4 Big East) gets to put it in the win column. St. John’s, on the other hand, is now 10-15 overall, 4-9 in the Big East, and 0-10 against Top 25 opponents.
“We definitely came out and played hard,” said Harkless. “Unfortunately we didn’t win the game. I think everybody played hard, and everybody fought, so that’s a good sign.”
Harkless was excellent, scoring 20 points, including earning 10 foul shots and making eight of them. Everyone knows how talented he is, but Harkless doesn’t always display the aggressiveness of a star player. On Sunday he did, calling for the ball and attacking the rim, particularly during one stretch in the second half.
“I was trying not to let the game get out of hand,” Harkless said. “I was trying to just keep attacking, attacking, and I kept drawing fouls. I was just trying to be aggressive.”
Shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison, after scoring a season-low five points on 1-for-12 shooting in the Red Storm’s 69-49 loss to Georgetown on Jan. 15, had a team-high 24 points on Sunday, making five of his dozen 3-point attempts against one of the best perimeter defenses in the country.
But Harkless and Harrison didn’t have much help. Greene chipped in nine points, but no one else had more than four, while Georgetown had five players in double figures. Then again, St. John’s only has six players total now, as this bizarre season continues to unfold.
Dunlap sounded confident that the resolve and determination his team showed on Sunday will continue, despite the fact they have now lost three in a row, and eight of 10. “Our players have been steeled because of a lot of unusual circumstances this year,” Dunlap said. “A win would be nice, but we have Seton Hall [on Tuesday]. And so our mind’s on next play, next game.”
But with the NCAA Tournament now out of reach, practically speaking, it’s hard not to start thinking about the more distant future.
What Harrison and Harkless are doing as freshmen in the Big East, averaging 16.4 and 15.5 points per game respectively, is impressive, to say the least.
The core one-two punch is there. Now it’s up to Steve Lavin and his staff to add a few more pieces to the supporting cast.
But however many games this pair wins during the rest of their St. John’s careers, their most impressive feat may be the manner in which they've kept competing this season, under these dire circumstances.
Don’t expect that to change over the final four weeks of this season, either.
“If we play hard, we’re gonna win games,” Harkless said. “I don’t know when it’s gonna happen. But we’re gonna win games.”
“It hurts, but we just know that it’s gonna pay off sooner or later,” Harrison said. “It might not be next game, it might not be the rest of the season. But we know it’s coming.”