Johnnies fans of a certain age will surely recall the classic battles during the 80s between Carnesecca-era St. John's teams and Georgetown squads coached by John Thompson, Jr.
A generation later, Thompson's son, John Thompson III, catapulted the Hoyas to virtually instant success under his tutelage, removing the parity between the two programs and creating an ever-widening gap. Until now.
As a young St. John's team matures with experience, they seem to have decisively gained the upper hand over a program still reeling from the loss of graduates like Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace. On Tuesday night, with their second defeat of Georgetown this season, a 64-59 thriller, St. John's ended the Hoyas' NCAA Tournament dream.
Just a week prior, on March 3, St. John's had taken Georgetown to overtime at Madison Square Garden, eventually topping them by a score of 59-56, thanks largely to the performances of Paris Horne and Rob Thomas (16 points each), but in particular Thomas's clutch free throws down the stretch. The Johnnies had erased a 15-point deficit in the game's final 10 minutes to overtake the Hoyas.
Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts at the time called it "definitely one of the best games I've been a part of as a coach." And on the flip side, Coach Thompson characterized it as one of the most disappointing losses he'd ever experienced. Still, doubters saw no reason to think it would happen again.
But just seven days later, a monster performance by sophomore Sean Evans (12 points and 13 rebounds) combined with some dynamic sharp-shooting from improved scoring threat Paris Horne (23 points) gave St. John's their first BIG EAST Tournament win since 2003. Horne was 7-of-17 from the field, 2-of-6 from long range, and in fact led three Red Storm players who reached double figures, including contributions from the afore-mentioned Evans, and a 14-point effort from fellow sophomore D.J. Kennedy.
But it was probably the free throw line which proved most beneficial to the Johnnies on this memorable Tuesday evening, with Horne notching a perfect 7-for-7, Kennedy 5-of-7, and Evans 4-of-5.
"That's a tribute to them," said Coach Thompson, clearly disappointed yet again. "That's good focus and execution on their part."
Actually, what it is, most of all... is progress.
As Evans puts it, "A lot of hard work is paying off, you know? It shows the character that we got on the team and how much the coaches believe in us to keep pushing."
"We haven't been dealt great cards," adds Roberts, referring to the season-injury that befell Anthony Mason, Jr. and the fact that point guard Malik Boothe, the team's "quarterback," was sidelined for 9 games. "But these kids fight and do what I ask them to do. I think we're coming together as a family."