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It's too bad that St. John's, because of the Big East's new divisional alignment, plays Georgetown only once this season. Allen Iverson seems to bring out the best in Felipe Lopez, and the two guards on the same court seem to make for some quintessential college basketball moments.
Consider this: Lopez, of the Red Storm, going one on one against the Hoyas' Iverson, with the game, perhaps, in the balance. Yesterday, Lopez won that battle, and though Iverson won quite a few others, it was St. John's that won the game.
Iverson (39 points, 1 shy of his career high) played marvelously at Madison Square Garden, especially during a 23-point first-half outburst. But finally, with an up-tempo pace to his liking, Lopez delivered his finest performance in what has been an up-and-down sophomore season.
Lopez scored 25 points, 2 shy of his season high, to go with 9 rebounds, not to mention many crisp passes. His teammate, Zendon Hamilton, fouled out with 20 points and 9 rebounds.
Lopez and Hamilton proved to be too much for Iverson's one-man show, as St. John's played one of its finest games of a so-far erratic season, upsetting sixth-ranked Georgetown, 83-72, before 13,882 fans.
"That's my game, basically," Lopez said. "Up tempo." And in control.
If one play could have summed up the contest's outcome, it came with just over five minutes to play and St. John's leading by 9. The Red Storm cleared out for Lopez, who was being guarded near the halfcourt line by Iverson. The crowd sensed the drama and the shot clock ticked away. Lopez feinted, drove and dished to Derek Brown in the right corner. Brown's 3-pointer gave the Red Storm a 12-point lead. Georgetown would never get closer than 9 the rest of the way.
"I see it every day in practice," said Brown, when asked if he had ever seen Lopez pass that well. "You guys just haven't seen it."
Coach Brian Mahoney wouldn't mind seeing more of it. The game had to leave Mahoney, his players and their fans wondering which was the real Red Storm: the St. John's team (8-8, 2-6 Big East) that thoroughly dominated Louisville and Georgetown (17-3, 7-2) here at the Garden, or the one that has been mostly disappointing the rest of this season.
"In the Big East, there are a lot of bumps along the way," Mahoney said. "I probably know better than anyone. This was a big one."
Georgetown now has lost two games on the Madison Square Garden floor this season, the other to Arizona in the championship game of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament. But the Georgetown-St. John's game didn't figure to be very close: The Red Storm had lost its last three games coming in and had not defeated an opponent ranked this high since the 1991-92 season.
"If you saw our practice yesterday, you wouldn't have slept," Mahoney said.
Despite Iverson's performance, St. John's hung tough and trailed by only 38-35 at halftime.
Iverson was everywhere. The whirlwind 6-foot sophomore had 19 points at the half, 4 shy of his season average of 23.4. He outleaped, out-hustled and outworked everybody on the floor, generating an extra surge of energy in the building.
"I enjoy coming here and playing," said Iverson, who scored 40 points in the loss to Arizona here. "I love the whole atmosphere. I like it when the crowd's into it. I'm looking forward to coming back."
There was Iverson's reverse alley-oop six minutes in. And his one-hand tomahawk jam. There were his floaters from all over the court. And there was a steal near the end of the half, followed by a coast-to-coast rush, ending with a layup to cap a 7-0 run and give Georgetown a 36-29 lead with 2 minutes 42 seconds to play.
The first half was like some sort of high school all-star game. And it was very evident that the pace was something Lopez liked.
The consensus high school player of the year two seasons ago seemed to thrive on the challenges thrust forward by Iverson.
Said Lopez: "A lot of people have to make it a Lopez-Iverson type of game, which it isn't. But yeah, I was pumped up even though I have been struggling. There are a lot of times when you want to take it personally. But you have to stay within the system. There was a time when I would have thought I had to outscore him for me to play well. But when I feel in the flow, I don't feel I have to shoot every time. Today, I was feeling like that."
St. John's looked finished near the end of the half. But the Red Storm rallied and went into the break with a chance. And, at least on this day, St. John's seemed to have all the answers and took advantage of the opportunity.