St. John’s Head Coach Kim Barnes Arico kneeled on the sideline and called out a play to her point guard.
“Georgetown!” Barnes yelled.
“Georgetown! Georgetown!” screamed the guard as she approached halfcourt. Immediately, two Hoya defenders stepped forward to trap her, forcing a long pass to another guard in the backcourt. This is the new strategy that Georgetown (19-3, 8-1 Big East) must contend with as it prepares to face the big guns of the Big East.
The Blue and Gray defense is arguably the best in the nation when it comes to forcing turnovers. Georgetown is second in the country in steals per game (14.1) and first in the Big East in turnover margin (plus-8.82).
“I think teams are taking care of the ball,” senior forward Jaleesa Butler said. “We’ve forced so many turnovers before, teams are concentrating on taking care of the ball. We don’t change anything. We are still going to trap, we’re still going to pressure them. Nothing changes for us.”
That was evident Tuesday night, as Georgetown forced 22 Red Storm turnovers to win 67-57 at home. For the majority of the game, Georgetown was in control in what should have been a closer matchup. St. John’s (18-4, 6-3 Big East) had just entered the rankings at the No. 25 spot on the heels of a five-game winning streak. For the No. 16 Hoyas, it was a vital victory as they look forward.
St. John’s came in with the opportunity to tie the Hoyas and No. 11 West Virginia for third place in the Big East standings. Instead, the Hoya victory put the Blue and Gray back into second place and dropped the Red Storm down to fifth.
The win capped off a stretch of three games in seven days for Georgetown, and the Hoyas will have eight days of rest before they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers.
“Rest,” Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “They need some rest. We have a tough stretch coming. We go away [to] Pitt and then away [to] West Virginia. The game at West Virginia is a stretch [in which] we have six games in 14 days.”
In addition to WVU, Georgetown will play No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 1 Connecticut during that stretch. On Tuesday night, however, the Hoyas had to contend with the Red Storm.
It was a moment for the record books, as it was the first time since Feb. 20, 1982, that two ranked teams squared off at McDonough Arena. The last time such an event occurred, the No. 13 men’s team defeated No. 4 Missouri, en route to the 1982 National Championship game.
The Blue and Gray won the tip and scorched the Red Storm for an 11-2 run early, led by freshman guard Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers. The four-time Big East rookie of the week leads the Big East with 19 points per game in conference play. Rodgers was simply lights out from the start, knocking down three consecutive three- pointers for nine points in the first five minutes. The freshman was only able to play 24 minutes due to illness, but she still finished with a game-high 17 points.
The Hoyas were able to match Rodgers’ hot start as a team in the first half, shooting 54.5 percent from the field to take a 16-point lead into halftime. Then the real St. John’s showed up.
Coming out of the break, the Hoyas were once again plagued by a season-long habit of letting big leads slip away. Through the first 11 minutes, the Red Storm crawled back on a 24-11 run to make it 48-45.
“Story of our lives,” sophomore forward Latia Magee said before chuckling. “We’re known for that: We get a big lead, but they come back and then we get another big lead.”
Williams-Flournoy called a timeout to stop the momentum from going completely to the Red Storm.
“I told them just to relax. Unfortunately this is what we do,” Williams-Flournoy said. “I told them, `Everybody just relax. Let [St. John's] go on their run. Right now we’re about to go on our run.’ It’s hard to panic about it. I think if you panic about it, then you panic them. It’s something they’ve seen before, and they were able to bounce back.”
It was Magee who stepped up to lead her team back, grabbing rebounds and finding teammates for open shots. Magee finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while committing just one turnover, all while playing center against a larger St. John’s team.
“I thought she played well. It was about time,” Williams-Flournoy said. “It was time for her to step up. I think more impressive than anything else was the seven rebounds because it’s tough for her playing at that position at her size.”
Magee, at 6-foot-2, and Butler, at 6-foot, are undersized for their positions as frontcourt players, and it had been a factor that has led to the Hoyas’ rebounding troubles this season – Georgetown ranks last in the Big East in defensive rebounds.
“We’re a small team. Me and [Butler] are post players, and we’re going against them, they’re 6-foot-4, and it is hard,” Magee said.
The Hoyas were subdued after the game – satisfied but not jubilant after beating another ranked opponent. Georgetown is now 3-0 against ranked teams after knocking off Purdue and Syracuse earlier in the year. Perhaps it is because the Hoyas know what lies ahead and how their future opponents are changing their strategies.
“Any win is a momentum booster,” Butler said.
The Hoyas will still need momentum, but they now find themselves in legitimate contention for a top-five finish in the Big East. Their next game will be on the road at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. “