WASHINGTON -- St. John's coach Steve Lavin sensed a "payback kind of mentality" from Georgetown's top players, who were seeking to avenge one of their toughest defeats of the season.
Lavin knew what he was talking about. It was a loss at Madison Square Garden earlier in the month that started the Hoyas' January slide, and on Wednesday it was a 77-52 rout over the Red Storm that finally brought Georgetown (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21) back to .500 in the Big East.
"We know we didn't play well at St. John's, offensively and defensively," said Georgetown's Chris Wright, reflecting on the 61-58 outcome in New York on Jan. 3. "We just were off. We wanted to really come out here and beat them, and beat them on the boards, and beat them defensively and get a lot of stops and get out and run. Yeah, it was definitely a payback game."
Jason Clark scored 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting and Hollis Thompson responded to his demotion from the starting lineup with 15 points and six rebounds. Austin Freeman added 14 points and Wright had six assists for the Hoyas (15-5, 4-4), who shot 51 percent to win their third straight. The turnabout that started last week with New Jersey wins at Rutgers and Seton Hall had a homecoming as emphatic as the two-handed, rim-hanging dunk by Thompson that pushed the lead to double digits for the first time late in the first half.
"They played with a hard edge, an aggressiveness, a payback kind of mentality," Lavin said. "Kids have a lot of pride at this level, and I'm sure Freeman, Clark and Wright had a mindset that they wanted to get back at the Johnnies."
Justin Burrell had 12 points and eight rebounds for St. John's (11-8, 4-5), losers of five out of six after starting 3-0 in conference play. The Red Storm were playing the seventh game of a brutal eight-game stretch against Top 25 opponents, a streak that began with the win over Georgetown. St. John's has lost 32 in a row on the road to ranked teams, its last win coming in 2002.
Dwight Hardy, averaging a team-high 14.7 points entering the game, went 4 for 16 from the field and finished with 10 points. Justin Brownlee went 4 for 10 and had nine points, and Paris Horne was limited to 21 minutes because of foul trouble. The Red Storm shot just 34 percent against a Georgetown team that spent most of its seven-day break between games concentrating on defense.
"We really got after it, playing a lot of 3-on-3," Wright said. "And I think 3-on-3 might have been much tougher than it was today, and that helped us out. We were all fired up to play."
Thompson, a sophomore forward whose play has been as inconsistent as Georgetown's as a whole, wasn't in the starting lineup for the first time this season. Freshman Nate Lubick, making his first collegiate start, promptly committed four turnovers in the first half and finished with six points and six rebounds, while Thompson went 5 for 6 from the field and had his most rebounds in five games.
Asked why he made the switch, coach John Thompson III said: "Just 'cause I wanted to." The coach said it "turned out OK" and said it was possible he might continue to use Hollis Thompson off the bench.
Hollis Thompson said he'll go along with whatever his coach wants.
"Coach obviously knows what he's doing, so when he tells you you're not starting, it's for the best of the team," Hollis Thompson said. "Whatever's best for the team, I'm going to support."
The Hoyas' fortunes this season also rise and fall with Freeman, the Big East preseason player of the year who scored only six in the loss at St. John's and followed it with poor-shooting, 11- and 12-point games in losses to West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Freeman roared back to score 25 against Rutgers and 28 against Seton Hall. He was only 5 for 13 from the field on Wednesday, but he had three 3-pointers and converted one into a four-point play as he was knocked over backward while making the shot.
A sparse crowd that made it to the arena had to brave an afternoon of thundersnow, a rare weather phenomenon that apparently doesn't mesh well with a Red Storm. St. John's shot only 33 percent in the first half and went the final 5:01 without a basket during a 10-0 Georgetown run that gave the Hoyas a 40-27 lead at the break.
St. John's showed a hint of a rally early in the second half, cutting the deficit to six on Burrell's three-point play with 14 1/2 minutes remaining, but the Hoyas outscored the Red Storm 32-13 the rest of the way.
Georgetown, with the rhythm restored to the Princeton-influenced offense learned by John Thompson under coaching great Pete Carril, had assists on 21 of its 26 baskets.
"This was one of those nights," Lavin said, "where Pete Carril would be lighting a cigar somewhere proud."