NEW YORK – Georgetown’s season ended the way so many of its games did, with a thrilling, heartbreaking finish that saw the Hoyas on the losing end of the NIT Championship game.
Standout forward Mike Sweetney’s 25 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots were not enough to propel the Hoyas to what would have been their first ever NIT title.
After the game, Sweetney said that he has not made his final decision about returning for a senior season. “Right now, yes,” he said when asked if he would be back in a Georgetown uniform next year. “Right now, I just have my mind made up on going back to school and finishing up work and taking it from there.”
St. John’s (21-13) won its sixth NIT title 70-67 over a Georgetown team that in midseason was in danger of not qualifying for the post-season for the first time in 28 years.
“I thought we had a great run,” Head Coach Craig Esherick said. “We had a great run at the end of the season.”
The game came down to a last-second three-point attempt by sophomore guard Tony Bethel, who got a clean look at the potential game-tying shot but missed it just before the buzzer sounded.
With 10.3 seconds left to play, the Hoyas were down by one when they took a timeout under their own basket.
Hall inbounded the ball to junior guard Gerald Riley, who almost immediately lofted an off-balance three-point attempt that missed the mark.
“I kind of rushed it a little bit,” Riley said. “I’ve been taking shots like that all year, but, unfortunately, tonight it didn’t go in.”
Esherick said he was confident with the ball in Riley’s hands with the game on the line. “Gerald has won or tied a lot of games for us this year, and so Gerald is somebody who I definitely wanted the ball in his hands, and I wanted him to take that shot,” Esherick said. “I’ll definitely live with that shot.”
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Jarvis said that he was anticipating that Georgetown would try to get the ball inside to Sweetney, and set up his defense to deny him the ball. “When you have two or three guys around one guy, you can’t pass it to him; somebody else is going to have to take the shot and you’ve got to take your chances with that,” Jarvis said.
After the battle for the rebound ate seconds off the clock, St. John’s came up with the ball. The Red Storm called a timeout with 4.1 seconds left. On the inbounds play, Bethel fouled St. John’s freshman guard Elijah Ingram before any time could come off the clock.
Ingram made both free throws to put the Red Storm ahead by three.
With no timeouts remaining, sophomore guard Drew Hall passed the ball into Bethel, who dribbled downcourt and pulled up for a three-pointer that hit the rim just before the buzzer sounded.
“I was trying to get downcourt and get the shot off as best as I could,” Bethel said. “They were yelling from the bench `Shoot it, time is running out,’ and I just tried to put up my best shot.”
Red Storm senior guard Marcus Hatten, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the NIT, led St. John’s with 22 points, on 8-for-22 shooting, including five three pointers. Bethel had 12 points for the Hoyas, and freshman forward Brandon Bowman added 11.
Riley, who was named to the All-Tournament team along with Sweetney, had 10 points.
“[Being named to the All-Tournament team] feels good, but it could have felt a whole lot better if we could’ve gotten a victory tonight,” Riley said.
Following Bethel’s missed shot, St. John’s’ fans, who had made their presence among the 12,406 in attendance felt throughout the game, stormed their home court.
“The one sad thing about tonight is that Georgetown couldn’t also cut down the net,” Jarvis said after a lengthy trophy-presentation ceremony. “What should have probably happened at the end of the game was we got one net, they got the other net, and maybe each of us get a trophy, because they deserved it also.”
In the first half, St. John’s had 14 offensive rebounds, compared to the Hoyas’ five, contributing to a 12-6 second-chance scoring disadvantage for Georgetown.
St. John’s took the lead for the first time since early in the game on a Hatten three-pointer with 15:50 to go in the second half.
The highlight of the Hoyas’ first half was an 8-0 run that had them up 31-23 with 3:42 to go. St. John’s rallied back with a three-pointer from Hatten and points from forward Abe Keita and Ingram, and went into halftime trailing the Hoyas by four, 38-34.
After the break, Hatten personally took the Red Storm on an 8-0 run, which the Hoyas ended with a three-point shot from Bethel and a three-point play from Sweetney.
“We didn’t get a good start at the second half, and we didn’t have a good finish to the first half,” Esherick said.
Perhaps the most thrilling play of the game was an alley-oop at the end of the first half from Bethel to Bowman, after Bowman made a backdoor cut and Bethel lofted it to him from across the court.
Hatten opened the game with two three-pointers within the first two minutes, but after that, he failed to score until less than four minutes were left in the first half.
St. John’s has won six NIT titles, the most in the tournament’s history. Georgetown has never won the 66-year-old tournament.
The Hoyas had to go on the road to defeat Tennessee, Providence and North Carolina to make it to Madison Square Garden, where they beat Minnesota 88-74 on Tuesday. They finished the season having won eight of their last 12 games.
Yesterday’s game was the last for seniors Victor Samnick and Trenton Hillier.
“By the end of the year, we were a good basketball team, and we learned how to win, and that’s something we can carry into next year,” Esherick said.