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A Taste Of Their Own Medicine
Alexander Wolff
February 04, 1985
St. John's used an old Georgetown prescription—tough defense—to build a wide lead. Then the Redmen held on to break the Hoyas' 29-game win streak
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February 04, 1985

A Taste Of Their Own Medicine

St. John's used an old Georgetown prescription—tough defense—to build a wide lead. Then the Redmen held on to break the Hoyas' 29-game win streak

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In the end it wasn't just Chris Mullin, the Brooklyn-born Olympic star, or Walter Berry, the 6'8" juke-oh juco transfer from the Bronx, or Manhattan's Mike Moses, the fearless little point guard, or New Jersey's Willie (to the) Glass, the fleet wingman, or Shelton Jones, the versatile freshman from Amityville, N.Y., whom they call the Horror. None alone finished off Georgetown's 29-game winning streak—the longest since Indiana State went 33-0 in 1978-79—in a 66-65 victory last Saturday afternoon at Capital Centre.

In the end, and that end seemed never to come for St. John's, maybe it was a couple of imports—an Italian sweater and a Canadian center—that won the game. The Redmen watched an enormous lead ebb from a high of 18 points with 10:46 left, to 13 at 8:48, to eight at 2:35, to three at :19, to one at :05, at which time, in the most intelligent play of the game, Mullin cradled the ball in the safety of out-of-bounds after the Hoyas' final basket. There would be no more ebbing only because there would be no more time. Had the game lasted another five minutes, Georgetown might have won by 15.

About that sweater: It belongs to St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, and it's a truly appalling brown one, blighted with red and blue chevrons, that a friend sent from Italy. Carnesecca first donned it at Fitzgerald Field House in Pittsburgh on Jan. 14 because the arena was cold and he was worried about aggravating a case of the flu. When the Redmen blew out Pitt by 31 points, Carnesecca was sure to wear the Sweater for St. John's next game, against Boston College in Boston Garden. After the Redmen whupped the Eagles 66-59, he wore it to Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23, and St. John's beat Syracuse 82-80 in overtime. By then, most of New York City was hailing the miracle of acrylics.

Everyone, that is, except Mary Carnesecca, who found the article so malodorous she washed, then hid it. Her superstitious husband despaired, yelling, "I'm three-and-oh in that sweater!" at which point Mary brought it out from hiding. Domestic peace finally prevailed. In the future, it would get only mild "wringing."

If the Sweater made Carnesecca look like a Vancouver Canuck on Saturday, his Montreal Canuck, 7-foot center Bill Wennington, looked as though he'd solved the riddle of the ages, or at least of this season. There had been no consensus on how best to defense Georgetown, which partially explains why it was 18-0 on the season. At first the wisdom said zone the Hoyas and sag on 7-foot Patrick Ewing in the post. The Georgetown marksmen, Bill Martin, Horace Broadnax, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Michael Jackson and Perry McDonald, countered that tactic with deadly medium-range perimeter shooting. Then along came Seton Hall, which decided to extend its zone to stop Georgetown's outside attack. Ewing had a 33-point romp in that 90-70 blowout. Connecticut swung the defensive pendulum the other way, reverting to the sagging zone. UConn held Ewing to nine, but lost 79-66.

St. John's, however, had a better idea. "We play everybody up, strong, man-to-man," explained assistant coach Al LoBalbo, Carnesecca's defensive trouble-shooter. "As soon as the pass goes into the post, we release and go down." Wennington had a clear idea of his mission on the eve of the game. "I don't want to front him," he said, referring, of course, to Ewing. "Then he goes backdoor for alley-oops. I want to play behind him and beside him and force him outside, where he doesn't want to be. He's pushing you, but you can't give in to him. You use muscle and body weight and count on guys helping out."

In the game, Wennington would not be moved, and help came all day—from Mullin, cheating in from the wing; from Glass and sophomore Mark Jackson, who doubled down like blackjack players on a roll; and from Berry, who poached from the weak side and then scrambled back to get defensive rebounds when the Hoyas' outside shooters misfired after receiving Ewing's return passes. Ewing scored but three baskets all afternoon, and only one came off Georgetown's set offense. "We call it forcing a guy to spit it out," LoBalbo said afterward. "The poor guy had a problem getting the ball, and they were settling for the outside shot."

And missing it. The Hoyas shot a pitiful 36% in the first half, a none-too-stellar 40% for the game. Meanwhile, Carnesecca, aware of the Georgetown guards' penchant for crashing the offensive boards, had his own backcourt men lay back and cherry-pick. In an 8½-minute stretch in the first half, with Jones spelling the foul-hindered Berry, the Red-men mixed terrific halfcourt defense with a Wennington steal and a Glass follow-shot to take a 32-18 lead, all the while handling the Hoyas' fabled pressure defense with ease. The half ended with St. John's up 40-30. "We defended ourselves in the first half," Georgetown's Jackson would say.

St. John's had evinced a quiet confidence all week, particularly after coming back from six points down to Syracuse with 1:40 left to win a game that, Carnesecca said, "these guys'll take to the grave." At an ensuing practice on the St. John's campus in Queens, a writer for the New York Daily News asked guard Ron Rowan who he thought would win the Georgetown game.

"We will," Rowan said. "Who do you think will win?"

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