Redmen skin feisty 'Cats

(Published in Daily News, March 9, 1985)

NEW YORK - Lou Carnesecca knows this town can't wait to start beating the drums for another Georgetown-St. John's rematch.

But the Redmen's colorful coach was too tired to start hyping tonight's 7 o'clock Big East Conference Tournament championship game at sold-out Madison Square Garden.

"This is what you all wanted," he said to the assembled media after St. John's advanced to the final last night with an 89-74 win over Villanova. "What else do you want? I'm anxious to see it, too. But first, I want to go home and get some sleep."

Carnesecca can probably use a good night's rest after slugging it out with the pesky Wildcats. Villanova, which got a brilliant 27-point performance from Ed Pinckney, gave St. John's more than it expected and all it could handle before finally collapsing from exhaustion in the last 3:30.

"At the end, I think it was just a matter of who was standing," Carnesecca said. "That's a tough club to play. They don't beat themselves. You have to beat them."

Villanova (19-10) definitely has the look of a team that could do some damage in the NCAA tournament, as soon as it gets into a situation where coach Rollie Massimino can control the tempo without having to worry about a 45-second clock.

"I think our record is good enough and I think we'll be rewarded," Massimino said.

The Wildcats might not be deep but they are good enough to compete with most of the 64-team field. Villanova has suffered by comparison in a high-profile league that includes the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country.

It looks like nobody can touch top-ranked Georgetown (29-2), which breezed into the final with an emotional 84-75 win over Syracuse in the first semifinal. The Hoyas made the most of Patrick Ewing's 15 points and 12 rebounds to squeeze the life out of Syracuse.

The 7-foot Ewing broke St. John's 19-game winning streak here two weeks ago when he ripped the Redmen for 20 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocked shots during an 85-69 win at the Garden.

Villanova will never be mistaken for Georgetown, but the 'Cats still threw a scare into the second-ranked Redmen, using Pinckney's persistence in the low post and a scrambling man-to-man press to claw back into a game that most of the crowd of 19,591 thought was history midway through the second half.

Pinckney scored 12 of his team's 16 points as Villanova cut an 11-point deficit to 70-64 with 3:34 to play. The Wildcats had a chance to cut the deficit to four, but guard Harold Jensen missed a 12-footer in the lane.

St. John's 6-6 All-America Chris Mullin made a pair of free throws on the next possession and sophomore guard Mark Jackson scored on a baseline jumper to give the Redmen some much-needed breathing room before beginning an endless procession to the foul line.

"We're not a team with a knockout punch," Carnesecca said. "We dance a little bit, then decision you."

St. John's forward Walter Berry shook off a lethargic first half to score 22 points and grab 11 rebounds, personally putting 6-7 Harold Pressley - Villanova's defensive stopper - in early foul trouble. Pressley picked up his fourth personal with 14:48 to play. Then, Berry went to work on Pinckney, causing him to commit his fourth foul with 10:01 to go on a double-pumping floater in the lane.

"In the first half, I couldn't get started," Berry said. "In the second half, I got the ball more. I had more tip-ins, dunks, that got me going."

Berry's contributions aside, it was Carnesecca's decision to go to a three-guard offense of Mullin, Jackson and Mike Moses that finally neutralized Villanova's pressure for good and settled the issue.

Moses scored 17 points and made 11 of 12 free throws. Jackson, who has been Moses' backup all year, came off the bench to contribute 10 points.

"I think they ought to throw a benefit for all point guards," Carnesecca said. "Moses and Jackson spent all year giving the ball up. Tonight, it was their turn to come through."

It was their turn because Mullin, who tortured Villanova with 26 points last month at the Spectrum, only had 14 points. Carnesecca was quick to mention, though, that Mullin did contribute 11 assists.

"I'd like to point out that even our Lord - in all his omnipotence - had some tough days," Carnesecca said.

Villanova knows all about tough days. The Wildcats have played hard all season, but more often than not, their perimeter shooting has betrayed them in critical situations during big games.

Villanova shot just 15-for-35 in the second half against the Redmen and the numbers might have been worse if Pinckney hadn't supplied six of the field goals.

Pinckney, who grew up in the Bronx, gave us Broadway at its best, shooting 7-for-15 and making 13 of 15 free throws, bulling his way through double- and triple-teaming to help keep the 'Cats alive with a 22-point second half.

"Eddie has had a lot of great games for us during his career," Massimino said. "But this has to rank with any of his best."

Pinckney, who has already been invited along with teammate Dwayne McClain to participate in the Aloha Classic in Honolulu, dramatically increased his pro stock with his performance against St. John's.

But he could not overcome the Redmen's depth and the fact that St. John's went to the foul line 25 times in the second half.

So, ready or not, St. John's now gets a chance to face Georgetown, a fire-breathing dragon of a team it split with during the regular season.

"You can't change guns at this point," Carnesecca said. "You can't work any trades for future considerations. You have to go with what you've got. I just hope it's a great game."