St. John's guards have nightmare game

WASHINGTON -- A loss is bad enough. But this was a brutal day for D’Angelo Harrison and Jamal Branch.

Harrison had the worst game of his career, and Branch suffered what could be a serious knee injury, in St. John’s 68-56 loss to Georgetown.

Branch missed the final 17:08 of the game after going down in a tangle under the basket and having to be carried off the floor by teammates. (For the latest on Branch, click here.)

Harrison was benched for the final 8:52 after shooting 0-for-9 from the field, 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

"D’Angelo was having a tough game," said St. John’s coach Steve Lavin. "So to me it made more sense to go with the group that was playing well and was competitive."

The Red Storm were very competitive at the start, jumping out to an early 7-3 lead. But the Hoyas shot 58.6 percent (17-for-29) in the first half, outrebounded St. John’s 21-9, and led 39-28 at intermission.

Georgetown never let the lead dip under eight points in the second half, despite shooting 33.3 percent (10-for-30) after the break.

"I thought in the first half Georgetown really dominated, kind of had their way with us, basically pushed us around," Lavin said. "I thought in the second half we matched their physicality, but we had buried ourselves."

After the game, the two teams nearly came to blows in the postgame handshake line, but were separated.

"It was nothing too serious," Harrison said. "Just arguing, just talking trash, that’s really all. ... Tempers flared. It’s part of the game."

Harrison wasn’t the only St. John’s player who struggled. The Red Storm shot 20-for-63 as a team (31.7 percent). The lone bright spot was little-used reserve Marco Bourgault, who played in place of Harrison late and scored a career-high 12 points in 13 minutes.

"That’s an inspiration for all of us," Lavin said. "He’s been lower than a snake’s belly -- came here from junior college expecting to play, he’s gotten zilch run, had nothing but splinters in his fanny, and he stepped up today and had a hell of a game."

Harrison entered the day 17th in Division I in scoring (19.7 ppg). His previous season low was seven points, in the first meeting between these teams on Jan. 12. This time around he scored a career-low two points, and said afterward that he couldn’t recall ever having a game in which he didn’t hit a single shot.

Georgetown, among the top defensive teams in the country, allowed Harrison to catch the ball as opposed to denying him on the perimeter. But the Hoyas’ length appeared to bother him on several attempts.

"Not necessarily," said Harrison when asked if Georgetown did anything in particular to bother him. "If I would have hit my first three shots, they were clean looks, it would be a different ballgame."

"I think we just got lucky. He’s fun to watch as a fan, not as an opposing coach," said Georgetown coach John Thompson III. "Our guys happened to do a good job and he just happened to have two bad games. I don’t think there’s a secret formula."

To his credit, Harrison was not sulking about his benching after the game. "It’s a team sport, it’s not about one person," he said.

Lavin said he’s not worried about his star’s psyche. "As a freshman, maybe I would have," the coach said. "But he’s showed a breakthrough on his maturity, in terms of bouncing back from a tough loss or a performance where he doesn’t find his offensive rhythm."

Harrison will bounce back, there’s no doubt. The question is, will we see Branch suit up for St. John’s again this season?

The preliminary diagnosis is a sprained left knee, but further tests could reveal a more serious injury.

Since becoming eligible in late December, Branch had emerged as a key component -- one of the team’s primary ball-handlers, as well as its third-leading scorer (9.0 ppg).

He appeared to be capable of even more as he got more comfortable, but now may be lost after playing just 10 games.

As for the team as a whole, the Red Storm were much more competitive than they were when Georgetown blew them out at Madison Square Garden three weeks ago. But they still saw their five-game winning streak snapped, and will continue to hear critics chirping that their 6-4 Big East record is due to a favorable early-season schedule.

Harrison had a message for them after the game.

"I think we’re still one of the top five (teams) in the Big East," Harrison said. "We’ll take it, and we’ll get ready for UConn (on Wednesday).

"We feel like we can beat UConn. So we’re gonna be ready for UConn."