NEW YORK -- The chances of St. John's getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament may have died in a series of failed putbacks in the final minutes on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
With the Red Storm trailing Georgetown by two points with about 1:20 remaining, L.J. Figueroa made a steal at midcourt and the Garden crowd let out a tremendous roar because the home team had at chance to tie the game after trailing for much of the second half. Figueroa opted for a pull-up 3-pointer from the left arc that rimmed out, and St. John's then had one, two, three, four good looks at a putback that would've tied the game.
None of them went through the net, Georgetown big man Jessie Govan ended up with the ball and fed Mac McClung for an uncontested dunk on the other end.
St. John's never scored another basket the rest of the way and succumbed to McClung and Georgetown, 89-78, before a crowd of 17,801.
"That one possession is what it is, it could go either way but we put ourself in that position long before that one possesssion," St. John's guard Mustapha Heron said of the multiple failed putbacks. The outcome was the reverse of the Jan. 5 game between the teams at Georgetown, when the Hoyas blew a late lead and fell in overtime, 97-74, thanks to Shamorie Ponds' 37 points.
"We were able to close it out," said Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing, the former Georgetown and Knicks legend who shared the court with his old Big East rival, St. John's coach Chris Mullin. "We kept our composure, we didn't put our heads down and we kept on fighting."
Chris Mullin coaching against Patrick Ewing. pic.twitter.com/nUro7mTiq1- Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) January 27, 2019
With this latest loss, the Red Storm's NCAA Tournament chances are on fumes. St. John's has now lost five of eight after a 12-0 start as they fell to 15-5, 3-5 in the Big East. They will need to go 6-4 the rest of the way in league play to finish 9-9 in the league. And considering their next three games are on the road at Creighton, No. 2 Duke and No. 12 Marquette, that won't be easy by any stretch.
"One game at a time," Heron said. "We'll try to win every game as we go to all these different places. Pay attention to the scout and just try to win every game."
Before the game, Fox Tweeted out a mock NCAA Tournament bracket that had five Big East teams in it, with Big East leaders Villanova and Marquette in strong position, St. John' as a 10 seed and Seton Hall and Butler among the "Last Four In."
At this rate, St. John's, which was picked fourth in the Big East Conference, is in danger of falling off the mocks and the Big East is in danger of putting only a few teams in the Big Dance.
Before the season, St. John's was expected to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2015 given that they had Ponds -- the Preseason Big East Player of the Year -- and Heron, who became eligible immediately this season after transferring from Auburn, along with an experienced team of transfers.
"I wouldn't say we're desperate," Ponds said. "Like Mustapha said, we gotta take it one game at a time. We know that we can win, we just gotta get back to them ways."
The good news for St. John's is that after a weak non-conference schedule they now have some golden opportunites to build their resume in front of them when they travel to Creighton, followed by a game against Zion Williamson and Duke, followed by one against Markus Howard and Marquette.
"Great opportunities," Mullin said. "What else would you rather do? Go play basketball. We're going to go to Creighton, it's going to be a packed house. We're going to go to Duke, which I haven't visited since 1981 when I visited there so I'm excited about that. We're going to play at Marquette, one of the best offensive teams.
"What else would you rather do in life? If you're not excited about that, jeez."
He added: "Every day is an opportunity. Every day I wake up and I get in my car and I'm good to go."
There is always the chance of winning the Big East Tournament -- and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament -- in March.
But if Mullin's Johnnies aren't good to go in the next nine days, their NCAA Tournament dreams could be as good as dead.