Georgetown coach John Thompson III doesn't want to hear kudos after a losing a tough game to a top-notch opponent. St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap doesn't mind at all.
That's the difference between a nationally ranked team and one that is a nation's-worst 0-10 against the Top 25. The Red Storm stayed close against the 12th-ranked Hoyas on Sunday before falling 71-61.
D'Angelo Harrison scored 24 points, and Moe Harkless had 20 for the Red Storm (10-15, 4-9 Big East), who lost their previous two games by a combined 47 points. They are 2-3 with their new "Fresh Five" starting lineup featuring five freshmen.
"We really took a step forward after reeling off of a couple games," said Dunlap, who is running the team while head coach Steve Lavin recovers from prostate cancer surgery. "Our talk to our players was very upbeat."
Dunlap had his players focusing on Georgetown's Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson, and the effort was largely successful: Clark was 4 for 13 from the field and Thompson took only six shots.
But freshman Greg Whittington scored a season-high 12 points, and Nate Lubick had an impressive line of seven points, eight rebounds, five assists and a career-high four blocks for the Hoyas (19-5, 9-4), who shot 61 percent in the second half and moved into sole possession of fourth place in the conference.
"What we tried to do is take Clark out of the game, and Thompson," Dunlap said. "And we can't take everybody out."
Clark, Markel Starks and Otto Porter all scored 11 points, and Thompson finished with 10 for the Hoyas, who bounced back from an overtime loss at No. 2 Syracuse on Wednesday — and didn't want to hear about what a valiant effort it was.
"Coach mentioned to us before the game, talking about how people were still praising us after a loss," Lubick said. "That's something that we can't look at. We needed to bounce back fast, and that's how you do well in this league. To come out and grit out a big win was important."
Georgetown never trailed, but its lead didn't hit 10 points until there were 3 seconds to play.
Every time the Hoyas threatened to pull away, the Red Storm found a way to stay close. A 15-7 lead became 15-14 after two dunks and a 3-pointer, and St. John's cut into a 31-26 halftime deficit by forcing a turnover and turning it into 2-on-1 break capped by an alley-oop pass from Amir Garrett to Harkless.
Enter Whittington, who hit one of the big 3-pointers late in the game to answer St. John's momentum. And Lubick, who blocked Harkless' shot at one end, then set up a three-point play by Clark to give the Hoyas a nine-point lead with 3:14 to play.
Whittington and Lubick combined to go 8 for 11 from the field and were playing so well that Thompson kept both in the game late, when they would usually be on the bench. Lubick's 27 minutes matched the most he's played in a Big East game this season.
"I thought he made the hustle plays," John Thompson said. "His effort was very good, and we needed it."
The Red Storm had consecutive possessions with a chance to tie, but Phil Greene missed a 3-pointer with 8:48 remaining and lost the ball to Clark with 8:14 to go, a turnover that was converted into a falling-down reverse layup by Hollis Thompson to make it 49-44.
"This group doesn't get rattled," coach Thompson said. "This was a game I think that a group could easily get rattled because of their defense, because you don't know how you're going to get your shots, and because early on we missed shots."
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP.