Quiet Friday night, huh? Your Georgetown Hoyas rolled into Cincinnati, flirted with disaster, and yet rolled back out of town with their seventh straight victory, a 62-55 win over the Bearcats. Just as the game began to bear frightening resemblance to the two Hoyas collapses against the Bearcats last year, Georgetown turned the tables, clamping down defensively in a way the Hoyas practically have patented during their winning streak. In the end, the Hoyas exorcised last season's demons, beat Cincinnati at its own game, and maintained first place in the Big East at least through the weekend.
Markel Starks led all scorers with 17 points to go with 3 assists and 3 steals, and put the game away with a beautiful, high-arcing three and then again from the line. Otto Porter battled foul trouble but scored 16 points on just 8 shots and grabbed 7 rebounds. Freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera carried the Hoyas for much of the first half, finishing with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists, while Nate Lubick had a line of 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists that would make any coach's son proud. And there was the defense, where all of the Hoyas contributed, most notably Jabril Trawick, who locked won on Cincinnati lead man Sean Kilpatrick for much of the night, holding the Bearcat guard to just 3 of 13 shooting, and six points below his average.
Early on, this game bore uncomfortable resemblance not so much to recent Cincinnati horror shows but to losses earlier this season. There was the fact that Georgetown didn't score for the first four-plus minutes, the first points coming on a semi-pretty, nearly disastrous twisting lay-in by Mikael Hopkins. Even when Georgetown soon moved ahead, the good news was short-lived, as five different Hoyas racked up two first-half fouls apiece. Cincinnati soon began a parade to the free throw line, and the Hoyas' doom was assured.
But the Bearcats, becuase of either ineptitude or magnanimity, did not take advantage, earning 17 free throws in the first half but making just 8. They were scarcely better from the field, shooting a scant 31 percent and draining just 1 of 11 attempts from three. Georgetown's typically sticky defense resulted in more than a few Cincinnati misses, but the Hoyas also dared the Bearcats to make several outside jumpers that came up empty.
Cincinnati's errant shooting gave Georgetown more than enough room, even with Porter and Lubick shuttling in and out of the game with foul trouble. Porter had his first-half moments, hitting a fade-away, turning a steal into a three-point play, and setting up Lubick for a gorgeous lay-in in traffic. But for the most part, Georgetown turned to its secondary options to shoulder the scoring burden. Smith-Rivera led the first-half charge, hitting a pair of jumpers set up by clever passes by Lubick, and converting a late lay-up through traffic to blunt a late Cincinnati run. Starks also converted a jumper and a pair of creative banked runners to help built a six-point half-time lead.
After intermission, that advantage swelled. Hopkins hit a pair of three throws, then fed Starks for a lay-up. After a pair of Cincinnati baskets, eight straight Hoya points--a Porter post up, a physical lay-up by Jabril Trawick, two Porter free throws, and the trademark Lubick lefty look--pushed the lead to 12.
The good times couldn't last, as Georgetown's foul trouble continued to mount. Porter and Lubick each picked up their third foul early in the second half, leading JTIII to try to steal minutes with Aaron Bowen and Moses Ayegba in place of the more regular Hoyas. That strategy held up for a while, as Smith-Rivera made a turn-around jumper followed by a put-back set up by Lubick.
Georgetown's luck without Porter couldn't last, as only a three-pointer from their star interrupted an otherwise scoreless six minutes for the Hoyas. During that time, Bearcat guard JaQuon Parker nearly made up the difference by himself, at one point scoring 11 straight Cincinnati points, the last of which, a slashing baseline lay-in, put Cincinnati ahead for the first time since the Bearcats led 7-6. Despite shooting just 32 percent from the field, the Bearcats kept things alive by grabbing 13 offensive rebounds to the Hoyas' 4, and getting to the line frequently. The Hoyas struggled to generate offensive flow thanks to physical Bearcat defense, including three of Cincinnati's eight blocks, and shifting Hoya rotations. The Fifth Third Arena was rocking, and things seemed dire for the visitors.
But as it has so many times in this run--at Notre Dame and Rutgers, against Louisville--Georgetown had the last word on defense. Such is the state of college basketball that runs tend to be defensive rather than offensive, but that's been the Hoyas' strength all year. And Georgetown held Cincinnati without a basket for more than six minutes, gradually rebuilding an advantage that proved decisive. Starks hit a rainbow three in front of the Hoya bench to break a late tie, and the final eight points, five of which were from Starks, came from the free-throw line, as stop after Hoya stop forced Cincinnati to foul.
All the holes that could have been poked in the Hoyas' winning streak--most of the games were at home, mostly against mediocre competition--were filled with this win. In case the one-sided defeat at Cincinnati sans Chris Wright two years ago didn't convince you, the semi-rabid home crowd and fully rabid Cincinnati head coach effectively made the case Friday. Cincinnati had the edge in fouls called (Georgetown was whistled for one more, but that includes three late purposeful fouls by the Bearcats), but you wouldn't have known it from the crowd, which was nearly in a state of bloodlust by the end.
In addition to the hostile crowd, the competition showed up. Despite an off shooting night, the Bearcats are no slouches, with a trio of rugged guards attacking the rim on offense and a slew of bigs protecting it on defense. This sort of opponent--physical, overpowering on the boards, always looking to get to the line by drawing fouls--has given the Hoyas fits in the past, but they withstood those difficulties tonight.
Georgetown's seventh straight win left me feeling like Jackie Chiles, spouting adjectives: it was improbable, doubtful, but eventually indisputable. But that's the nature of a winning streak, whether it's the eight straight that the Hoyas rattled off two years ago, or this current run. Some wins are routine, others nearly heart-stopping. The Hoyas have earned a couple of days to rest and heal before they return to the court to defend this run once more, Wednesday against DePaul. Until then, safe travels home, and Hoya Saxa.