by Dan Gardella 

NEW YORK – Several hours before the Super Bowl kicked off in Miami, fans seated inside Madison Square Garden got quite the pregame to the big game.

The Red Storm were in command for most of the game, but blew a 17-point lead over the final 16 minutes in a 73-72 loss to the Georgetown Hoyas Sunday afternoon.

Entering the game, it was evident that both teams were in need of win to improve their standing in the Big East, especially after the crazy Saturday that unfolded within the conference. The Hoyas would have to do it without Mac McClung, who was sidelined with an injury.

St. John’s also switched things up in their starting lineup, having the struggling Mustapha Heron and guard Nick Rutherford come off the bench, giving Greg Williams Jr. and Julian Champagine the starting nods.

The beginning of the first half was sloppy and sluggish, with both teams finding their footing on the floor. Through the first ten minutes of the first half, the Johnnies trailed by three. However, the Red Storm bench, led by Heron and Marcellus Earlington, ignited a 19-4 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 12-point lead.

Georgetown would chip away in the final minutes of the first half to cut the lead to single digits, but Rasheem Dunn would go coast-to-coast in the final seconds to beat the halftime buzzer with a three-foot floater in the paint to send St. John’s into the locker room with a 38-29 lead.

The biggest stat for the Red Storm in the opening half: Zero turnovers for Mike Anderson’s team through the first twenty minutes. They played under control and executed.

The second half would begin similarly to the end of the first half, the Red Storm continuing to be in command. The lead would balloon to 17 with 16 minutes to play following a put-back slam by Josh Roberts, which prompted Patrick Ewing to call a timeout.

His team was depleted, in a hole, and looking for an answer. But through the players, the tide would begin to turn.

“We told everyone to keep fighting,” said Jagan Mosely. “Play by play, stop by stop, just get one stop at a time and just came back.”

It would not be a St. John’s/Georgetown matchup without some fireworks. A minute and a half into the second half, Hoya forward Jamorko Pickett would be whistled for an unsportsmanlike technical foul after having to be held back by teammates following a steal and basketball by Jahvon Blair.

A few minutes later, Mosely was called for a technical foul of his own after throwing the ball toward the basket after a turnover.

Now the Garden was juiced up for the final stages of the game. Every made basket was life and death for each team.

Amid the calls going against the Hoyas, they climbed back into the game and made things interesting as the clock continued to tick. The catalyst during the late run was senior Omer Yurtseven. The senior, who finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds struggled inside early in the game, but began to show his presence in the later stages.

Mike Anderson credits that to their defensive gameplan around the big man.

“I thought we had him guessing where we were coming from,” said Anderson. “But with his positioning, he was working his way down low.”

St. John’s lead remained in double figures for much of the second half, but the Hoyas would outscore the Red Storm 28-14 over the final eleven and a half minutes to shock the crowd on hand.

The biggest stat on the St. John’s sideline: 12 turnovers over the final 20 minutes.

The eventual game-winning basket game with ten seconds left. After thwarting the St. John’s full court pressure, Mosely found Yurtseven down low, who would convert to give Georgetown the lead for good.

Patrick Ewing credited his team for sticking together through the tough times, even before Sunday’s game. He called Sunday’s win a “season-defining” win.

“This is a great win. We were undermanned, down 12 at one point. My team didn’t give up. They kept fighting, they kept making plays. What I told them in the locker room was that we have to build on this,” said Ewing.

Georgetown was led by Blair, who scored a game-high 23 points. The Hoyas host Seton Hall, fresh off of an upset loss to Xavier at home on Saturday.

St. John’s was led by Dunn and Heron, who had 16 apiece for the Red Storm, who now travel to the Midwest to battle with Creighton.