Georgetown and Tennessee played 40 minutes of excellent defense and awful offense Friday evening, with the Hoyas doing just enough to eek out a home win over the visiting Volunteers 37-36. The Hoyas struggled to score all night, with no player even notching double figures. Coach John Thompson III called the game the ugliest he had seen at any level. Ultimately, Georgetown came away with a win over a quality opponent--a win that, at the conclusion of the ritual Casual Awards, we can all agree to never speak of again.
There are anecdotal, statistical, graphical, and many other ways of describing how putrid the offense was in this game. Let's get a few of those out of the way first, just for kicks. The Hoyas scored fewer points in each half Friday night than they did in a half they played outside, against a top-10 team, on a ship, on a court so slick the second half was canceled. Georgetown and Tennessee combined for fewer points than the Hoyas scored in dispatching UCLA last week. The blue and gray had their fewest points since an identical 37-36 win when Patrick Ewing (Sr.) was still a Hoya. (Good news--that was the championship season!) Neither team shot better than 50 percent in any way--including from the free-throw line. I'm sure there are plenty more ways to measure the offensive ineptitude, so sound off in the comments below.
But you didn't come here for doom and gloom, so let's get to some of the positives. The Hoya defense was terrific. About three minutes in, Georgetown switched to its 2-3 zone and stayed that way for the rest of the game. Georgetown's perimeter length caused the Volunteers fits, as Tennessee scored just one basket for nearly eight minutes after the Hoyas went zone. The Volunteers managed to make under one out of every three of their shots for the evening. The Georgetown zone kept the ball away from Volunteer big man Jarnell Stokes, and prevented penetration by Tennessee point guard Trae Golden. As the game wore on and the offensive struggles mounted on both ends, the Hoya defense remained disciplined, alternately forcing contested long-range jumpers late in the shot clock and turnovers by swiping away entry passes.
When the Hoyas forced turnovers, they were able to generate offense in transition: a Nate Lubick feed to Jabril Trawick in the first half; consecutive steals by Greg Whittington and Otto Porter leading to give-and-gos with Markel Starks in the second half. And there was a balanced team effort, as Porter, Whittington, and Mikael Hopkins each had eight points and six rebounds, and Trawick pitching in seven points and four rebounds.
Even so, Georgetown struggled to build a lead. There were several missed opportunities at the rim, a few careless turnovers, and lots of a packed-in Tennessee defense that dared Georgetown to make a jumper. For the most part, the Hoyas couldn't, converting just an off-balance Trawick three from beyond the arc. Even when the game seemed to be tilting Georgetown's way--the Hoyas built an eight-point lead in each half--offensive droughts kept the game in question.
There's a lot to think about going forward. Who will be the team's play-maker when a bucket is needed? Friday, Starks hit a step-in jumper with 4:09 remaining that proved to be the game-winner but they'll need more in the future. Porter seems like the most likely answer, but he was strangely passive against the Vols, often settling for long twos. Can newly minted Comrade Mikael Hopkins, who shot just 2 of 9 on Friday evening, convert at the rim against high-level competition? Will any Hoya step up as a zone-busting shooter? Without more of a threat from deep, Georgetown opponents will continue to sag into the lane. And what became of Nate Lubick, who hit his elbow midway through the first half, didn't return, and reportedly is seeking x-rays.
Georgetown has a few days to work out some of these kinks before playing Texas in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. This stretch is important, both because the tussle with the Longhorns will be the Hoyas' last with high-level non-conference competition, and also because two high-level opponents in five days emulates the challenges of upcoming conference play. Tonight brought a win--little else, but definitely a win. And, considering what we all just sat through, that's a lot better than the alternative.