The formula for the Hoyas' recent surge has been relatively simple: make their shots and prevent opponents from doing the same. Monday night, Georgetown abandoned that blueprint, instead overcoming an off shooting night by gumming up the efficient Marquette attack and, on offense, parading to the free throw line. That effort, ugly but effective, helped the Hoyas pull away from the Golden Eagles down the stretch en route to a 63-55 win. The win was Georgetown's sixth straight and eight in nine without Greg Whittington, a streak that would have seemed unthinkable just three weeks ago.
The box score pecking order was familiar, with Otto Porter leading all scorers with 21 points, and Markel Starks close behind with 16, to go with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Nate Lubick had a solid 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, and Mikael Hopkins had his third straight solid outing, finishing with 6 points, a career-high 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
But that's about where the similarities to recent games end. Porter was a bit off from the field, making just 6 of his 15 shots, and he wasn't alone, as Hopkins was the only Hoya to make even half of his field goal attempts. As a team, Georgetown shot just 39 percent from the field.
Those struggles were evident early when, after two early buckets, the Hoyas went bone dry for more than six minutes, failing to score a point as Marquette built a five-point lead. Also unusual was the source of those early Golden Eagle points: Chris Otule, who roughly doubled his season average with eight early points. For Georgetown, the turnovers were frequent, the shots were hurried, and the game was starting to resemble Georgetown's eyesore of a loss at Marquette just a few weeks ago.
Finally, Starks broke the Hoyas out of their early funk with consecutive deep threes; the latter from roughly Arlington put Georgetown ahead for good, as it turned out. From there, Georgetown didn't so much heat up as it kept Marquette from getting any shots off. At one point the two teams each had made 7 field goals each despite the fact that Georgetown had taken 21 shots to just 12 for Marquette. Instead of shooting the ball, the Golden Eagles gave it away, committing 12 first-half turnovers. Their struggles culminated at the end of the half, when a 7-0 Georgetown run inflated the Hoya lead to ten.
But the Hoyas couldn't keep things going. Georgetown began the second half even worse than the first, managing just a pair of free throws over the first six-plus minutes after intermission. Marquette winnowed the Hoya lead on five baskets by five different Golden Eagles. The last, a three by Jamil Wilson, pulled the visitors within three; after a Hoya turnover, Marquette had a chance to tie.
But then a bang-bang play quickly changed the complexion of the game. Hopkins slapped the ball away from Marquette big man Davante Gardner, and the ball bounced out of bounds. But off of whom? The nearest referee couldn't see it, leading to some help from a more distant official, leading to a call in the Hoyas' favor, leading to incredulity on the part of Marquette head coach and head perspirer Buzz Williams.
The officials took exception to the baldy's objections, assessing him a technical. The technical seemed marginal to me, but who would really give that man an extra inch, with his constant haranguing and near court-storming? Regardless, Marquette's gradual unraveling after that foul--which, to be fair, was caused at least as much by Georgetown's repeated trips to the free-throw line--called into question the wisdom of getting so worked up over an out-of-bounds call in the first place.
Returning to game action, Porter calmly sank both technical free throws, then hit a mid-range jumper on the ensuing possession to push the lead to seven. Another Marquette foul, and two more Porter free throws, made the lead eight, and Georgetown never really looked back.
There wasn't much poetry in Georgetown's win: no game-closing stretch like Porter's at Rutgers on Saturday, not even bruising, efficient dominance like Lubick's overpowering of St. John's the weekend before. Instead, there were snippets of a team simply playing as one. Toward the end of the first half, Lubick, posted on the wing, eyed a cutting Porter to dupe a Marquette defender, only to kick the ball to a wide open D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera on the wing for a very casual three. The next time down the floor, Lubick, now deep in the post, kicked the ball to a cutting Porter, who drew the attention of several Golden Eagle defenders before finding Hopkins for a step-through lay-up. In the second half, Lubick forced an open-court turnover, knocking the ball to Jabril Trawick, who returned the ball to Lubick under the basket, who flipped the ball to Hopkins for an open dunk.
These plays, rarely easy, even more rarely individual, characterized a team win. There's evidence of this play in the box score, especially the 15 assists on 20 made baskets, an appropriate figure for the best-passing team in the Big East. Even those numbers exclude several brilliant passes that led the Hoyas not to a made basket but to the free-throw line. And that's where Georgetown largely put this game on ice, making 14 of its first 17 foul shots and a solid 71 percent on the game.
Monday was a critical win as Georgetown enters a tough stretch of its schedule. With a road trip to Cincinnati this weekend and to a maximum security facility on the Canadian border next weekend, the Hoyas hardly could afford a home loss, even to a Marquette squad that entered the night tied for first place in the conference. And the Hoyas got the victory they needed, even through improbable means.
This win marks the fifth time in the JTIII era that Georgetown has won six or more in a row conference. Such is the nature of these streaks that they raise expectations as they grow. A team that might have counted itself lucky to have qualified for the NCAA Tournament just a few weeks ago now sits just a half-game below the top of the Big East. So it is that Friday's tilt with Cincinnati--a game with its own revenge factor, given the Bearcats' four straight wins over the Hoyas--might once have been written off but now seems critical.
That road trip is still a few days off. In the meantime, your Hoyas may be back on the practice court, drumming up new ways to grind out victories, new ways to win. Hoya Saxa.