NEW YORK -- What a difference six weeks can make.
On Jan. 4 at the Verizon Center, St. John’s got embarrassed by Georgetown, the worst performance of the Steve Lavin era.
On Feb. 16 at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm looked as good as they have during the Lavin era, blowing out the Hoyas, 82-60.
Revenge is sweet, but here’s something sweeter -- St. John’s (17-9, 7-6 Big East) has won five in a row, eight of nine, and should appear in Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA tournament bracket projection come Monday.
The Red Storm belong in the Big Dance, and the way they’re playing right now, they could win a game or two -- maybe even more.
“Naturally as a competitor, if you’ve been beaten by a team, you want to come back and beat them,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “But I think the bigger picture here is a team that continues to make strides in a positive direction.”
There was nowhere to go but up after the Red Storm were pummeled in Washington, D.C. last month, trailing 42-16 at halftime and by 33 nearly seven minutes into the second half. But no one could have expected this kind of hot streak -- no one, that is, except for Lavin.
The coach never wavered from his prediction that this squad would gel come February, and it’s done just that, making him look like a sage.
The run started with a relatively unimpressive nonconference win over Dartmouth on Jan. 18, became noteworthy after an upset of No. 18 Creighton last Sunday, and deserves even more notice after a manhandling of a Georgetown team that had won four straight -- including a win over No. 9 Michigan State in this building two weeks ago.
The Red Storm didn’t waste any time Sunday, blitzing the Hoyas by scoring the first 15 points of the game -- the first seven by freshman guard Rysheed Jordan. It took Georgetown more than six minutes to score a point. St. John’s led 46-28 at halftime.
Georgetown briefly got back in the game, clawing as close as seven, 56-49, with just under 11 minutes remaining. But D'Angelo Harrison knocked down a trey on the very next possession (following a timeout), and St. John’s put the game away from there.
“We chipped away, we got it to a workable number,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “At that point we made some bad decisions which allowed them to pull [the lead] back out. But you gotta give credit to them. They’re playing at a high level right now, a really high level, at both ends of the court.”
St. John’s shot 57.4 percent from the field, against the 27th-ranked defensive team in the country. Jordan and Harrison led the way with 24 points apiece. For Harrison, it was his 12th game of 20 or more points this season. For Jordan, it was a career high, eclipsing his 18 points at Providence on Feb. 4.
Harrison has been steady all season long, whether St. John’s was winning or losing. But Jordan’s improved play has been the biggest key to the Red Storm’s remarkable turnaround after an 0-5 start in conference play.
Jordan has now scored in double figures in five of the past seven games. Against Georgetown, he shot 8-for-11 from the field, 5-for-6 from the foul line, committed just one turnover in 35 minutes and put the cherry on top -- a windmill slam in the final minute that you’ll be seeing on “SportsCenter.”
“With Rysheed it’s just time. The more reps he gets, the more experience he gets with each practice and each game opportunity allows him to elevate his play,” Lavin said.
Lavin isn't making Jordan available to the media, but Jordan's teammates sung his praises.
“At the beginning he was a little hesitant on doing stuff, he was shaky, and now he’s become the point guard we knew he could be,” swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer said. “This is not new to us, we’re not surprised, we were just waiting on him to come. He showed up to the party.”
This is St. John’s first win against Georgetown after six consecutive losses, dating back to 2011, Lavin’s first season at the helm. No one on the current roster had ever been a part of a victory over the Hoyas.
“We’re gonna celebrate it, probably for the next hour, and then we’re gonna flush it,” Harrison said. “We gotta get ready for Butler [on Tuesday].”
Sounds like the Red Storm are focused on a much bigger goal, with Selection Sunday just four weeks away.
The way things are going, that’ll be a day to celebrate, too.