Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin faced off 12 times in college. Ewing played for Georgetown and Mullin for St. John’s, both teams facing off regularly in the Big East Conference.
Mullin was a three-time Big East Player of the Year, while Ewing played in three NCAA National Championships and won one.
Mullin played guard and forward, while Ewing, who stood almost a half a foot taller, dominated at center.
Mullin was “Mr. Basketball” from Brooklyn, New York; Ewing was born in Jamaica and struggled with racial tensions.
Despite their different journeys, they shared a common goal, one that frequently pinned them against one another. In the 1984-85 season, both Mullin’s and Ewing’s teams were among the top ranked in the country. They faced off in the Big East Tournament Championship as well as the NCAA National Semifinal, both games going to Ewing and Georgetown.
After careers full of competing in the NBA, they joined forces for the Olympic games, winning gold in 1984 and 1992. Decades later they face off again, now as coaches for their alma maters with the same goal that once fueled the biggest rivalry in college basketball: Championships, and the road to them that passes through Georgetown and St. John’s.
Ewing is in his first year coaching at Georgetown; Mullin is in his second for St. John’s. Despite their once heated rivalry, both coaches called one another to offer congratulations when they secured the jobs.
However, when Georgetown and St. John’s face off, there is no lost love between the Big East rivals and the men who lead them into battle. The first game they played ended 69-66 in favor of Georgetown. The second ended in double overtime, 93-89, again going to the Hoyas. That put Ewing on a five-game win streak against Mullin, but in the first round of the 2018 Big East Tournament, that streak, spanning over 30 years, finally came to an end.
Georgetown came out firing, hitting 60 percent on a remarkable nine of 15 three pointers in the first half. The Hoyas star center Jessie Govan, a shadow of Ewing, led all players with 20 points and had Georgetown up by eight points.
Mullin and his guard-heavy squad led by Shamorie Ponds, a contender for the Big East Player of the Year, continued to fire and chip away at the lead. Eventually, David proved too much for Goliath and the smaller guards of St. John’s toppled the higher seeded Hoyas and Patrick Ewing.
“It’s very disappointing,” Ewing said. “But you know, it’s hard to beat a good, quality team as St. John’s three straight times. You know, they have a lot of talent on their team. They’re very well-coached, and you have to be able to play your A game if you want to beat them.”
He added a lack of full team effort contributed to the loss.
“As you see in the stat sheet, we didn’t bring our A game,” Ewing said. “You know, Jessie and Marcus, they played, based on their stat sheet, they brought their A game, but no one else really stepped up. And we need, for us to beat that team, everyone has to pull their load and we didn’t get that done tonight.”
For St. John’s their hope for a Big East Championship remains intact after beating Georgetown for the first time this season. Mullin spoke in the post game press conference on the difference of this game from the two earlier this season.
“All the games have been really close games, and ironically or not they really shot the three ball against us and they had nine at halftime,” he said. “I thought our defense was much better in the second half. I thought the first half, they got too many open looks, too many walk-in threes. No resistance. I thought we were fortunate to be only down six at halftime. And I thought our defense picked up in the second half and offensively we kind of got moving.”
Mullin said the victory wasn’t a revenge match against Ewing, nor did it have special meaning in that regard.
“Like I said, those two games were, you know, just toss-ups,” Mullin said. “I don’t really look at it as a coaching matchup, I don’t. I know I’d rather coach against him than play against him. It’s a lot easier on my body.”
The spirit of competition is alive and well between the two Big East teams, and Mullin spoke on the job that Ewing is doing at rival Georgetown.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job in his first year, not only record-wise, but I think the way they play, the type of team,” Mullin said. “To me it resembles him, they’re aggressive, unselfish, they work hard and he’s very demanding. That’s who he is.”
While the two were once fierce competitors jockeying for position for the two rival schools, much has changed.
“Probably the biggest difference is we’re friends now, and we weren’t then at all. So we didn’t even talk,” Mullin said. “We’ll goof around here and there. I think we both understand, you try and prepare our guys the best we can and then give them all the tools that they can have so they can go out and perform well. I want my guys to perform well, feel good about their games and win. That’s what I want for them. So we try to do all that out in practice. When the game starts, yeah, we’re going to make adjustments and do some things in timeouts, but the players are going to dictate. We know that better than anybody, Patrick and I. The one difference is we’ll goof around a little bit. There was no goofing when I played against him. I saw today he took his tie off during the game. I said, what are you doing? He said he was getting hot.”
The rivalry between St. John’s and Georgetown remains intact and is headlined by two basketball legends coaching their alma maters. While Mullin and Ewing are now friends and can goof around, glimpses of the fierce competitors they once were when they took the floor against one another can be seen in their coaching.