WASHINGTON – The St. John’s-Georgetown rivalry died Saturday, at the age of 100 (games) and 105 (years).
These two basketball programs remain in the same conference. But they’re not in the same league.
The fatal blow was Georgetown’s 77-60 victory at the Verizon Center -- a rout far worse than the final score indicates.
It was a disaster from the outset. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin made another strange decision with his starting lineup, taking out JaKarr Sampson, Phil Greene and Rysheed Jordan and inserting Sir'Dominic Pointer, Felix Balamou and Khadim Ndiaye.
Pointer is the team’s spark plug off the bench, Balamou didn’t even play in the first 10 games of the season, and Ndiaye is a walk-on who entered the game with 17 career minutes under his belt.
Rather predictably, Georgetown jumped out to an 11-4 lead at the first media timeout -- although Ndiaye did score St. John's first bucket of the game, and took a charge.
The reasons for the changes were not disciplinary. "The starting lineup today was really more of because of how poorly we played against Xavier [in a 70-60 loss Tuesday], and also I just had a good premonition about Khadim -- a kid who works really hard, lives in the gym," Lavin said. "I watch him every day in practice, and he does exactly what he did for us tonight -- he hits open shots and he rotates and takes charges and he distributes the ball to the open man.
"He’s coachable and adds value as a teammate and has a certain maturity or bearing that’s impressive, a 'gravitas' or whatever you want to call it. So I just felt that I wanted to give him a look."
Things didn't get any better once Sampson, Greene and Jordan entered the game -- in fact, they got far worse. Georgetown sophomore D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera teed off on the Red Storm, pouring in 20 of his game-high 31 points, shooting 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. As a team, Georgetown shot 62.5 percent in the first half (15-for-24).
St. John's, on the other hand, looked lost against the Hoyas' full-court press and half-court D. The Red Storm shot 21.4 percent (6-for-28), missed 5 of 9 free throws and turned the ball over 11 times. D'Angelo Harrison, averaging 19.6 points per game, was the Red Storm's leading scorer with four points in the half, shooting 1-for-9.
Georgetown led 42-14 in the final minute before a circus shot by Pointer made it 42-16 at intermission.
St. John's has a habit of falling behind early, but this took things to a whole 'nother level.
"We didn’t come prepared. We didn’t step on the court ready," Pointer said. "We gotta get back in the gym and figure out why we’re doing this still. We’ve been doing this since we were freshmen."
Pointer defended the coaching staff, though. "The coaches had us prepared and ready for the game," he said. "It was the players who didn’t go through with it."
Sampson said he felt a bad vibe from the team in pregame warmups. "We just didn’t come out with no energy," Sampson said. "Normally if we’re down or up, we’re still playing hard, we’re still playing with energy. And we didn’t do that today."
After 47 straight starts to begin his St. John's career, Sampson came off the bench for the first time, and admitted it affected him. He finished with just six points.
"It was a little bit," Sampson said when asked if it was hard to get into the flow off the bench. "But everybody was out of whack. It was a weird game like that. We were all out of whack and out of sync."
That's not surprising when the starting lineup features two players who normally barely play, if at all. It's also tough to get in sync when 13 different players see the court in the first half alone.
Lavin did not second-guess the lineup decision, instead seeing his team's first-half performance against Georgetown as a continuation of its poor second half against Xavier four days earlier. He even pointed to Ndiaye, who played seven minutes, as a bright spot. "In hindsight, I should have kept him in the game longer," Lavin said.
He also touted his team's performance after intermission. "We played really well in the second half," Lavin said, "but you gotta do that for two halves."
But the truth is, this game was over at halftime. Yes, St. John's made the final score look somewhat respectable. But Georgetown continued to dominate early in the second half, leading by as many as 33 (59-26) with just more than 13 minutes remaining. The rest of the game was nothing but garbage time.
A season that began with so much promise is in danger of going off the rails. St. John's is now 0-2 in Big East play, with No. 11 Villanova coming up next.
Lavin still believes in his squad. "It’s the age-old challenge of teaching young people about the importance of sustaining concentration, sustaining the level of execution, sustaining your defensive coverages," he said. "I don’t know when it is with each group, each group you coach is different. That [Dwight] Hardy group, it was probably early February they really started turning the corner in understanding that aspect, it took us a while.
"Naturally, the sooner the better. But I’ve also coached long enough and had teams that oftentimes it was the school of hard knocks -- it was sometimes getting worse before it gets better, but eventually it’ll get better. That’s what we’re after."
As for this "rivalry," which dates back to 1909, St. John's still holds a 53-47 edge overall. But that feels like ancient history. St. John's has now lost six in a row to Georgetown, each time by double digits, by an average of 17 points.
The Red Storm haven't won here since 2003. They got embarrassed here in 2014.
This rivalry may come back to life again, some day. College basketball would be better for it.
But St. John's has a lot of work to do. This season, and beyond.