Well that was fun. Georgetown shook off a sluggish, frustrating first half-plus to mount a furious comeback to beat the hated Connecticut Huskies, 72-69. The win, which saw the Hoyas play their best stretch of basketball since before conference play began, was Georgetown’s second straight in a critical home stand.
The first 23-plus minutes appeared to be more of the same for a Georgetown team that has struggled to defend and to generate consistent half-court offense. The Hoyas suffered repeated breakdowns on the defensive end, failing to rotate over to open Connecticut shooters, letting Husky ball-handlers easily penetrate to the basket, and sometime just not running back on defense as the visitors sought out easy points in transition. The Hoyas fell behind by six points at intermission before allowing an embarrassing run to start the second half that pushed UConn’s lead to 43-29.
Considering the Huskies came into the game with one of the worst offenses Georgetown has faced this year, the Hoyas’ inability to slow down the Huskies was discouraging. Some of UConn’s suddenly hot hands could be attributed to random shot-making, like Vance Jackson and Christian Vital, 32 and 27 percent from 3, fueling 50 percent team-wide three-point shooting during the first half. But just as much could be chalked up two season-long defensive weaknesses: poor execution, particularly rotating as the ball moves; and as an inability to control quick point guards like the Huskies’ Jalen Adams (22 points, 9 assists on the day).
But then just when it seemed that the bottom was about to drop out, Georgetown came back. First, Jagan Mosely navigated his way around a high ball screen, using his man to get an open three-pointer. The next time up the floor, Mosely used his massive wingspan to deflect a pass, then dove on the floor to recover the loose ball. In the resulting disorder, the young man whom all announcers are required to point out played for the legendary Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony’s found Hot Rod Pryor for an eye-popping dunk.
Connecticut immediately called a timeout but, other than a quick lay-up out of the commercial, the Huskies couldn’t stop the bleeding. On three consecutive possessions, the Hoyas got three-pointers from Pryor, Jonathan Mulmore (rainbow alert), and LJ Peak, tying up a game that just minutes beforehand appeared to be slipping away.
More importantly, Georgetown buckled down defensively, holding the Huskies to just 1 point on 7 possessions as the Hoyas pulled ahead. Peak locked in defensively, bottling up UConn ball-handlers while a Connecticut offense came back to Earth and then some.
Offensively, Georgetown turned up the heat in the second half. Five different Hoyas hit from beyond the arc, opening up space inside the arc. That space was duly occupied by Peak, who drove to the basket time and again, and sophomore big man Jessie Govan, who scored in the post, from the mid-range, and beyond the arc. A Georgetown team that has struggled to score in the half court scored 45 points in the second half against a Connecticut defense that is generally stingy.
Hoya fans know that no late-game lead is safe, and the Huskies didn’t go away. Adams punctured the Georgetown defense time and again, finding his own shots while setting up teammates rolling to the basket. But Georgetown protected the ball against Connecticut’s press and put the game away from the free-throw line, where the Hoyas made 27 of 33 shots on the day, including 10 of their last 11. A last-second effort by Adams to tie was off, and Peak fittingly pulled down the final rebound to ice the win.
There were many individual accolades to hand around. Peak was the MVP Saturday, leading the Hoya offense with 21 points, handing out 4 assists, and grabbing 7 rebounds while spearheading the Hoyas’ defensive crackdown in the second half. Govan had 15 point and 7 rebounds, showing off his full offensive repertoire during the Hoyas’ surge. Other Hoyas contributed with less gaudy contributions. Marcus Derrickson overcame an off shooting day (8 points on 3 of 10 shooting) to grab 6 rebounds and dish out 6 assists (!), and Akoy Agau likewise grabbed 6 rebounds, 4 of them offensive ones that expended Georgetown possessions.
There’s a difference between the objective merit of this win and how impressive and exciting it was, given the circumstances. Considered statistically, Georgetown actually underperformed on Saturday. Connecticut is not the perennial top-25 power that it has been in seasons past. Rather, the Huskies are under .500 for the season, having lost at home to Wagner and Northeastern and more recently, to luminaries like Auburn, Tulsa, and Memphis. In a sense, UConn is like a slightly worse version of Georgetown this year. Georgetown should have beat UConn handily, making the Hoyas’ narrow win a slight statistical disappointment that lowered their KenPom rating.
But life isn’t lived on a stat sheet. Saturday was a very good win for many other reasons. First, Georgetown kept fighting after falling behind by 14. Opponents, announcers, fans, and just about everyone else have doubted the Hoyas’ effort this year. Presented with the opportunity to confirm those doubts, Georgetown instead fought back. Second, the Hoyas mounted that comeback in large part thanks to solid defense, a team-wide commitment that has been lacking throughout this season. Finally, Georgetown pulled off the thrilling comeback win over an old rival—by the exact score, as recap veteran JGD pointed out to me by email, that Georgetown beat Connecticut in 2008, thanks to Roy Hibbert’s game-winning three-pointer, and again in 2010, aka The Austin Freeman Game.
What does this mean going forward? It’s hard to say. Georgetown played well for the last 16 minutes on Saturday but will need to play better to beat Providence two days from now, let alone pull off the road wins they’ll need to play in the post-season. But the last several games have included pieces—Peak’s stellar all-court play, Mosely’s solid defense and competent offense, Derrickson’s generally good outside shooting and craft around the rim, Pryor’s volume scorer—that, if the Hoyas can put them together, could turn around. Whether they will, remains to be seen.