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?"
"Georgetown," said the reporter.
Overhearing this apostasy Mullin, who had been filling a nearby basket, said, "If you think that, you can get out of my gym. Hey, if this were Georgetown, you wouldn't even be in the gym."
St. John's had every reason to be optimistic. It was 14-1, having lost 62-59 to Niagara in a game Moses had missed. Mullin had shaken off an early-season shooting slump, ostensibly by donning a T shirt under his singlet the same night Looie donned the Sweater, but more likely by running the baseline incessantly and being more patient. Against Boston College he'd scored only eight points in the first half, yet finished with 24. He didn't get his first shot against Syracuse until 11:30 into the game, but ended up with 29 points. What's more, since the Niagara fall Berry had begun to emerge as a key ingredient in the Redmen's mix. The Georgetown game would be his midterm exam. The Hoyas, by contrast, had become more vulnerable with time. To be sure, they were winning games at the same dizzying pace as last season's NCAA champions. But they were doing it without guards Gene Smith and Fred Brown, who graduated, and Michael Graham, the de-Mohawked Mr. T of the frontcourt, who, because of academic problems, has taken his scowl to the University of the District of Columbia. The result is a Georgetown team less oriented toward intimidation and more toward basketball. One result of that: great stats. Going into Saturday's game, the Hoyas were holding opponents to sub-40% field-goal shooting as they did last season, but they were also outscoring the opposition by nearly 20 points a game, more than three better than in 1983-84.
In the Big East, however, with its grueling home-and-home prelims to the conference tournament in March, the Hoyas have been demystified. Villanova took them into OT on Jan. 12. A week earlier Boston College had done the same. Even as St. John's was delivering its Saturday balloon-buster, Syracuse was priming for its shot before a Monday night crowd of some 32,000 in the Carrier Dome.
It was the Redmen who had pinned the last loss on Georgetown, a similar 75-71 run-out-and-stave-'em-off job almost a year ago in the same arena. This time St. John's came in ranked No. 2, making this the first confrontation between intraconference rivals ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation since North Carolina and Virginia hooked up in 1983. "Patrick Ewing is a great intimidator," the 6'8" Berry had said this fall, upon arriving at St. John's after a one-season side trip to San Jacinto (Texas) College. "But he doesn't intimidate me."
In roughly five minutes of the second half, with the Hoyas hanging fairly close at 43-34, Berry, who finished with 14 points and 13 boards, made this eminently clear. First he grabbed a rebound and kicked the ball out to Mullin (20 points and eight rebounds), who stroked in a pull-up J. Call it a Mull-Berry. Then Berry flicked in a teasing floater in the lane over Ewing. That was a Razz-Berry. With refreshing egalitarianism, he swatted away a short jumper by 6'10" Grady Mateen and consecutive shots by 6'11" Ralph Dalton and the 6'2" Jackson. The Boys 'n' Berry. He stuck a baseline pop and another from the key. Ah, Berry, Berry Good. Then he fed Moses for a jumper from the right of the circle. Berry That Sucker. After Mullin slammed home the refuse from another Berry block, St. John's led 57-39, the 18-point margin that Georgetown could not make up. "Take away the schools," said Berry, who would encore with a chin-up on the rim after a Cram-Berry, "take away the crowd and forget about the T shirts, and it's the same game I've played every Saturday afternoon of my life."
Just after Mullin's breakaway dunk, with more than 10 minutes to go, Ewing drew his fourth personal going over Berry's back for a rebound. And suddenly, curiously, just when they should have had Georgetown gasping for air, the Red-men sputtered to a stop. "It looked like we were glued to the floor," Carnesecca said. Wennington all but became un-glued, missing two dunks and making two turnovers. Berry called the rest of the game "the longest 10 minutes of my life."
Martin, Broadnax and Wingate began their slashing, scoring moves from the perimeter, while Ewing inspired his mates to bare their teeth and elbows in the Hoyas' ferocious hungry-dog defense. St. John's still clung to a 63-53 lead with 2:48 left. But from that point the Redmen squandered nine of 12 possible points from the foul line, including misses on the front ends of four one-and-ones.
Mullin scored the final three St. John's points, all from the line, including the game-winner with 25 seconds left after Hoya coach John Thompson called a time-out to ice him. "I asked Chris about the weather, anything to get his mind off the shot," Carnesecca said. "I've been through this before with Georgetown. It's not always enough to be up by 18. Thank God we had that cushion."
Afterward, the Sweater needed another wringing. Wennington, whom Carnesecca calls The Edge ("We don't win without him"), was getting credit in the Georgetown locker room for his job on Ewing and for his performance as middleman against the Hoya press. When St. John's assistant Brian Mahoney called home, his 5-year-old daughter, Kerry, said "Hello. We're the number one team in the country."
Carnesecca would demur on that point. "Fifteen," he said, and he flashed the number with his fingers. "They're still the champs. They haven't been dethroned." Maybe not, but while the island of Jamaica could still be proud of its native son, Ewing, the community of Jamaica, Queens could lay claim to the No. 1 team—at least for now.