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Georgetown Chokes Down Another Cupcake, Beats Howard 81-67

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Hoyas survive stagnant second-half offense against hot-shooting Bison.

NCAA Basketball: Howard at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Your Georgetown Hoyas remain an undefeated powerhouse, I suppose. After a hot-shooting first half, Georgetown survived a tight offense and a scorching Howard back-court to beat the Bison 81-67 Thursday night. The win was the Hoyas’ seventh straight to start the season but their third straight unconvincing home win over a sub-300 opponent. Having set up a historically easy schedule in the hopes of building and improving early in the season, Georgetown appears to be doing neither.

Typically, a 14-point home win in which the home team led by double digits for nearly the duration is cause for celebration, or at least satisfaction. But these are atypical times, as Georgetown has loaded its schedule with creampuffs in the name of establishing confidence and comfort with their new coach, the undefeated Pat Ewing.

Thursday’s game against Howard, ranked 341st in the country entering the game, looked much like other recent showings. Georgetown seized control of the game early, using crisp ball movement in transition and in the half court to set up open shooters for clean looks. Junior wing Kaleb Johnson (18 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) had an all -around excellent game that began with a pair of three-pointers to space the floor early.

Johnson’s hot shooting was nearly matched by that of his classmates, big men Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson. Govan recorded his fifth 20-point outing of the season, pouring in 24 to go with 16 rebounds, a sum that would have been unthinkable in his two previous years but has become almost commonplace thanks to Ewing’s tutelage and undersized opponents. Govan was both smooth and overpowering on Thursday, moving and setting for slick jumpers in the gaps of the Howard zone one minute, and then overpowering some hapless Bison defender down low the next. For his part, Derrickson had a workmanlike 16, 9, and 4, doing dirty work on the glass while making the right play with the ball. The trio pinged the ball around the half court, powering a Georgetown attack that assisted on 13 of its first 14 baskets. With the Hoyas shooting 56 percent from the field and 50 precent from three before the half, it appeared that Georgetown was going to blow the Bison out.

But Howard had other plans. After scuffling offensively through the first half, the Bison came out firing after the break. Howard’s guards made the team’s first six shots of the second half, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Chief culprit was sophomore off guard Charles Williams (28 points, 6-9 3FG), who exploited every moment of Hoya inattention to throw more fire at the basket. Georgetown wasn’t without blame defensively, often losing track of Williams and his teammate RJ Cole (17 points), but the Bison guards also were pouring it in from all over the court, hitting shots that ranged from the off-balance to the off-the-dribble to the downright silly.

On offense, Georgetown came back to Earth in the second half. Part of the problem was the Bison’s hot shooting: the Hoyas had to pull the ball out of the net, allowing Howard to set its 2-3 zone defense and impairing Georgetown’s efforts to push the ball in transition. Another problem was how the Bison constructed that zone, packing ever farther into the paint to dare Georgetown to shoot from the perimeter. The Hoyas shot but didn’t make, as the same jumpers that fell easily before intermission bricked afterward.

Left without much from outside, Georgetown struggled to score from elsewhere. Speed demon point guard Jonathan Mulmore (9 points, 2 assists) saw a streak of four games with at least five assists snapped on a tough night. In his zeal for pushing the pace, Mulmore occasionally over penetrated into a dead end. In other instances, the Bison’s sagging zone yielded awkward results, as Mulmore forced an out-of-rhythm jumpers when left with no other results. Beyond him and the juniors, there wasn’t much to speak of, as the remaining five rotation players scored just 14 points combined.

Of course, the game was never really in doubt because Howard is one of the worst teams in the country. Tonight followed a now-familiar rhythm, as Georgetown builds a solid lead early, fails to expand it, lets it wither away among some second-half dithering, and then refocuses in time to make the margin defensible.

Georgetown’s opponents, which is not to say competition, have been bad all season, but particularly in the home stretch following the Hoyas’ trip to Richmond. The three visitors during that time — Maine, Coppin State, and tonight’s foe, Howard — are a combined 1-25 against Division I competition thus far. The weakness of these foes has provided Georgetown with a huge margin for error that it won’t enjoy for much longer.

The Hoyas haven't lost to any of these teams, nor have they come close. But neither do they bear the hallmarks of an improving unit. On both ends of the floor, Georgetown appears to be ever more reliant on its core group of four veterans. On good days, the fifth player emerges, typically the remaining starter, Jamorko Pickett (8 points Thursday night). But the bench has been anemic, accounting for just 13 points as a unit over the past 4 games, and hemorrhaging points on the defensive end.

There’s a period of adjustment under any new coach, and improvement is never linear. But Georgetown sure looked better 12 days ago, with three one-sided home wins and a hard-fought road battle at Richmond, than it does today. The Hoyas still have a week, and one more empty-calorie cupcake, before Syracuse arrives on December 16. The time for them to improve is now.