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Georgetown Escapes Charlotte's Late Comeback, 81-78

Hoyas soar early, hang on late in nail-biter over 49ers

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Georgetown won a weird one Saturday, building two double-digit leads only to give them away and escape late with an 81-78 win over Charlotte. The Hoyas ran their way to an early lead, scoring early and often by attacking the rim in transition and pounding the paint in the half-court. But defensive lapses in the open court and at the three point court almost cost Georgetown in the end.

Offense generally wasn't a problem for Georgetown, although the points ebbed and flowed throughout the afternoon. The Hoyas came out of the gates blazing offensively, scoring on eight of their first nine possessions to compile an early eight-point lead. Georgetown was led offensively by its starting guards, as freshman LJ Peak led five Hoyas in double figures with 18 points while senior Jabril Trawick (11 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) each contributed well-rounded efforts. The Hoyas got into the lane in the half court and got out into the open court, finding one easy basket on another. A DSR steal and fast-break lay-in made Georgetown's advantage 14 late in the half.

But the end of the first half was as poor as the beginning was good for Georgetown. Charlotte packed into a 2-3 zone that the Hoyas struggled to crack, often settling for jumpers instead of dicing into the teeth of the defense. Fouls and free-throws that had gone Georgetown's way in the game's opening minutes both regressed, with the Hoyas leaving points at the charity stripe and Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins each being whistled for two fouls before intermission. Eventually, Georgetown scored just one field goal in the final five minutes of the half and entered the break with a lead standing at just 7.

The second half was a near repeat of the first. Georgetown forced turnovers and turned Charlotte misses into early offense, eventually building a 15-point lead with barely 10 minutes to play. But the 49ers again battled back, first on the break and then from behind the arc. Charlotte's zone again stifled Georgetown in the half-court, leading to missed Hoya jumpers that kick-started 49er breaks in the opposite direction. Time after time, Charlotte got past and over the retreating Georgetown defense for uncontested baskets at the rim.

When the Hoyas finally got back on defense, Charlotte continued to whittle away at the lead from three-point range. Charlotte guard Pierria Henry, sidelined for much of the game with foul trouble, sparked the 49er attack, getting into the lane off a high double-screen action that freed up his teammates on the perimeter. Charlotte scored on four straight possessions, three times from beyond the arc, shrinking the Hoya lead from 10 to a mere 2.

When DSR fouled out on a questionable call with under three minutes to play, the Hoyas looked truly in peril. But eventually Charlotte came up cold from three, and the Hoyas iced the game from the free-throw line, where Aaron Bowen (11 points) and Peak each hit a pair in the game's closing minute.

This wasn't the prettiest of wins, and Charlotte exposed some of Georgetown's ongoing issues. Defense in transition and on the perimeter has been an issue all season. The Hoyas have a bad tendency to ball-watch and over-help on drives, leaving three-point shooters wide open on kick-out passes. And as in the Butler loss, Georgetown simply fell asleep a few times in the open court, failing to mark offensive players streaking down the court.

Zone offense also remains an issue, although JT3 may have approached an answer in the second half when Isaac Copeland (6 points, 4 rebounds) started in place of Hopkins. As much as Copeland and Paul White (5 points, 2 assists) may yield on the boards, one of them must be paired with Smith or Hopkins against opposing zones. This isn't an indictment of Hopkins, who remains solid on defense and on the boards, but he and Smith simply cannot stretch an opposing defense. Particularly on a roster that doesn't exactly enjoy a surplus of penetrating guards, the freshmen forwards' ability to read the zone and make the plays given to them is essential.

Ultimately, Saturday was another mixed bag against quality competition. Charlotte has experience, high-major size, quality guard play, and plenty of long-distance shooters. It has beaten or stayed close to a number of solid teams, and deftly exploited Georgetown's weaknesses. The Hoyas played to their strengths for much of the game, but will need more consistent effort and execution when they return to action next Saturday against Indiana. Until then, Happy Holidays and Hoya Saxa.