A Rivalry Renewed: Mullin, Ewing face off from the bench

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.

St. John’s beats Georgetown in Big East Tournament opener

After losing two close regular-season games against Georgetown, St. John’s finally got the best of the Hoyas in the opening round of the Big East Tournament Wednesday night.

The St. John’s Red Storm, more commonly known as the Johnnies, and the Hoyas met Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden for the first round of the Big East Tournament. The meeting between the ninth and eighth seeds, respectively, determined which team would face the Xavier Musketeers, the No. 1 seed in the tournament and also ranked third nationally.

In the teams’ two prior meetings, the Hoyas won narrowly, with one game decided in double overtime. Seeking his first win this season against the Hoyas was sophomore and All-Big East first-team selection Shamorie Ponds, who had been sidelined the previous two games with an abdominal strain.

Ponds, the conference’s leading scorer and Brooklyn native, squared off against Queens’ own big man and Hoya Jessie Govan. With each team’s seasons on the line, this game could be the last for either player before transitioning to the NBA, where both are seen as potential second round picks in the upcoming draft.

Georgetown began the game by taking a 10-2 lead over the Johnnies. Shamorie Ponds then scored 11 of the next 14 points for the Johnnies, helping to close the gap. However, consistent shooting from three-point range helped the Hoyas stretch the led to 10.

The Johnnies continued to play behind strong defense, and with two back-to-back alley oops involving Justin Simon, they took their first lead 32-31.

Again the Hoyas found their stroke from range, and immediately after the alley-oops by Simon, a deep three pointer silenced the St. John’s crowd. By halftime the Hoyas had connected on 56 percent of their attempts from deep to lead the Johnnies, 48-42.

St. John’s struggled shooting the three ball connecting on only 25 percent of their attempts. At halftime Georgetown’s Jessie Govan led all scorers with 20 points, five rebounds, and one block and one assist. He was followed by Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s who had 13 points.

In the second half, St. John’s battled back to erase the deficit, and after five minutes of play they took the lead once again 56-55. Ponds, Justin Simon, Tariq Owens, Marvin Clark II and Bashir Ahmed continued to score, and each reached double figures.

Their efforts put the Johnnies up by 10, leading 78-68 with four minutes remaining. Unable to stop the Johnnies from scoring, the Hoyas began to intentionally foul. Despite a monster night from Govan, who finished with 28 points and 11 boards, and Marcus Derrickson, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, the Hoyas could not close the gap.

A 26-point effort from the conference’s leading scorer Ponds, a near triple-double from Simon, and double digit scoring from three other St. John’s players proved to be enough to finally give Georgetown a loss at their hands.

“It’s hard to beat St. John’s three times, they have a lot of talent on their team, and they’re very well coached and you have to bring your A game,” Hoyas Coach Patrick Ewing said. “We didn’t bring our A game.”

With the win the St. John’s Johnnies will be back at Madison Square Garden at noon Thursday facing off against top-ranked Xavier.