Hoyas give away 16-point lead before clamping down defensively, controlling paint late
In a game of extended runs, Georgetown ran last, shutting down Cincinnati's short-lived offensive jump-start and pulling away to a closer-than-it-looks 61-43 victory. In advancing to the Big East Tournament semifinals, The Hoyas completed a season sweep of the Bearcats and avenged last year's painful early exit from New York.
This game started quite casually, and ended the same way. As in these teams' first meeting, the Bearcats' biggest struggle was simply shooting the ball, drawing iron on five of their first six three-point attempts. Cincinnati also struggled to hold onto the ball, committing six turnovers in the early going. As a result, Georgetown yielded just eight points over the first fourteen minutes, in the process building a sixteen-point lead.
On offense, the Hoyas' shot chart was like a Ken Pomeroy dream: everything was in the lane and beyond the arc. Georgetown hit four early triples, two by Jabril Trawick and another pair, by Otto Porter and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, that pushed the lead to 24-8. But the Hoyas were aggressive going to the basket, with four different players scoring baskets in the paint.
Cincinnati is a team that lives and dies by the three, sometimes doing both in the course of one game. Thursday was one such game, and, after Mick Cronin called timeout to gather the troops, the Bearcat guards starting gunning from deep. Cashmere Wright hit consecutive triples, followed by JaQuon Parker, who narrowed the deficit to just nine. A transition jumper by Sean Kilpatrick--his only basket of the day--was followed by another Wright three. Georgetown's lead was down to just five at the half, and was eliminated entirely when Wright buried his fourth three-pointer of the day to tie the game at 31 early in the second half.
Georgetown was tentative offensively to start the half, but soon awoke, primarily by attacking the basket. Things began modestly, with a Nate Lubick post-up late in the shot clock. A Trawick drive into the lane opened up a three for DSR, who followed up that triple with a step-in jumper. Drives in the lane by Porter and Markel Starks both found net.
Still, the reclaimed Hoya lead stood at just five midway through the second half. The Bearcats had pulled this act before, erasing Georgetown leads, sometimes sizable ones. Last year, those comebacks resulted in a pair of stunning Hoya losses. In February of this year, Georgetown withstood the late surge, buckling down on Cincinnati in the half court to pull away in the waning minutes.
Today, the ending was far less tense. On defense, Georgetown's guards hounded their Cincinnati counterparts, denying open perimeter looks. For their part, the Hoya posts helped effectively on ball screens while recovering quickly into the lane. With no open driving lanes and perimeter shooters now marked, the Bearcats had nowhere to turn, going scoreless for more than six minutes.
The Hoyas used their opponents' drought to pull away, manufacturing points around the rim and beyond the arc. Trawick found driving room, attracted multiple Cincinnati defenders, then dumped the ball to Lubick, who finished through contact. Smith-Rivera, increasingly a weapon on the boards, grabbed a Hoya miss and flipped it back in, extending the advantage to twelve. Cincinnati never closed within single digits again.
On the whole, one long Bearcat run distracted from what was otherwise a miserable day offensively. Cincinnati shot just 37 percent from the field, and turned the ball over 14 times. The Bearcats poured in 23 points in under 6 minutes, they scored just 20 in the remaining 34. The absence of a reliable post presence has been a common problem for Cincinnati all year, and Thursday was no different, as the entire Hoya defense keyed in on shutting down the Bearcat guards.
The praise for this win can be spread wide. Too often overlooked (including by me) for the thankless task of harassing an opponents' top scorer, Trawick deserves special note today. In addition to infusing the offense with early life, 'Bril did his duty on defense, holding Kilpatrick virtually scoreless, as one of the Bearcat's baskets came in transition and the other came with the game decided. Trawick finished with 9 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals, two of which came at critical points in the second half with the game still in doubt.
There are others to note as well. Markel Starks was as resourceful on offense has he had been in the first go-round with Cincinnati, getting into the lane on his way to 14 points. DSR had a solid 13 points, including a pair of triples, and the aforementioned key put-back. Moses Ayegba was a stalwart against the Cincinnati front line, grabbing 8 rebounds, 3 on offense. And Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter backed up his recently earned hardware, leading the team with 18 points and converting all 11 foul shots.
As is the nature of play in the Big East Tournament, Georgetown has little time to rest. The winner of Syracuse-Pittsburgh awaits, and the Hoyas will need their energy either, as looks likely, to complete a three-game sweep of the Orange or, in the event of a Panther comeback, to avenge their single worst loss of the season. Regardless, the Hoyas will have a fight on their hand. Punched once today, Georgetown proved it will be ready. Hoya Saxa.