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Too Little, Too Late: Georgetown’s Comeback at #2 Villanova Falls Short, Hoyas Lose 75-64

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Hoyas Lose 5th Straight at Wildcats, Fall to 4-8 in Big East Play

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

That was almost a lot of fun. Georgetown came roaring back from its annual double-digit deficit at Villanova Tuesday night, chipping away at a 17-point Wildcat lead until the teams were separated by just a possession. But the Hoyas couldn’t take the lead, sputtering down the stretch on both ends as Villanova pulled away for a 75-64 victory. The loss drops Georgetown to just 4-8 in conference play and 13-12 overall.

The Hoyas played their two best stretches of ball at Villanova since conference realignment. That is as low of a bar as it gets, as the annual trip to Philly has turned into a recurring nightmare. Georgetown has now lost five straight at Villanova, with all five defeats coming by double digits. In the three previous games since the formation of the new Big East, the Hoyas hadn’t led past the first timeout, and hadn’t been within single digits at any point in the second half. They had been blown out repeatedly and consistently.

That first trend changed, however modestly, tonight when Georgetown came out clicking offensively and staying at home on defense. Four different Hoyas scored as Georgetown hopped out to an early 9-5 lead. Rodney Pryor’s jumper was falling, Jessie Govan looked engaged offensively, and LJ Peak was attacking the rim.

But against a Villanova team that has dominated the conference of late, the good times last only so long. The Wildcats scored on 6 straight possessions and 8 trips out of 9 to turn a 3-point deficit into a 13-point lead. All-everything Villanova star Josh Hart got cooking, scoring 17-first-half points en route to a game-high 25. The Wildcats protected the ball and moved it expertly, dumping the ball in, kicking it out, and swinging it around the perimeter until the ball arrived at a wide-open shooter. For their part, the Hoyas went dry, at least in part because JT3 inexplicably rolled out an odd ultra-big lineup featuring Bradley Hayes, Marcus Derrickson, and Akoy Agau. That was offensively inert apart from a couple of Hayes put-backs and couldn’t stop anybody on defense. The hot-shooting Wildcats, used to being undersized, exploited the lead-footed Hoyas and carried a 15-point lead into the half.

It looked like things were going to stay that way after the break, with the Villanova lead still standing at 17 as JT3 continued to shuffle odd lineups. Govan and Marcus Derrickson, who both started the game, sat for 8-plus minutes to start the second half, while Thompson searched for any solution he could find. At one point Agau was the center in a lineup that featured Kaleb Johnson at power forward, the photo negative of the super-sized lineup from the first-half.

That fix came when the two sophomore big men reentered the game. This should have surprised no one. The Hoyas have a clear-cut top 7 that does not include Hayes or Johnson. The solution for Georgetown is not creative new lineups that employ subpar talent in novel ways. The solution is using the talent the Hoyas do have in the best way possible. With Govan, Derrickson, Pryor, and Peak all on the floor, Georgetown finally was able to use its talent to good effect.

Georgetown made a 19-4 push, holding Villanova to just one field goal over eight-plus minutes. Pryor hit a pair of three-pointers, and Derrickson and Peak each hit one apiece. Villanova’s offense went dry, managing a single lay-up in eight-plus minutes.Peak also got to the basket for a pair of lay-ups, and a Pryor runner brought the Hoyas within just 2 points.

Even after a Hart free throw, Georgetown had the ball with a chance to tie and barely two minutes to play. As Pryor streaked toward the rim for an emphatic dunk through contact, the comeback was almost complete.

But it wasn’t to be. Pryor was off on his dunk attempt and the first of two ensuing free throws. After a pair of Villanova free throws, Peak turned the ball over, and then Hart hit a dagger three that put the Wildcats back up 7 with barely a minute to play. Georgetown couldn’t close that gap, and instead heads back to D.C. (hopefully safely) from yet another loss at Villanova.

Peak was once again the engine that made Georgetown go, leading the team with 21 points while also dishing out 6 assists. After a horrible shooting game against Seton Hall, Hot Rod Pryor somewhat recovered at Villanova, still shooting just 8 of 21 but making a number of big shots during the Hoyas’ comeback and tallying 20 points to go with 9 rebounds. And Georgetown shared the ball well, notching 19 assists on 24 made baskets.

But Georgetown’s familiar weaknesses were too much to overcome. A Hoya defense that has proven porous throughout the season, particularly against crisp ball movement and penetrating guards, was no match for Hart and the other Wildcats. A Georgetown team that ranks last in the conference in forcing turnovers took the ball away from the Wildcats just 8 times and allowed Villanova to shoot a scalding 57 percent inside the arc. A Hoya defense that, despite never forcing turnovers, somehow also ranks last in foul rate, couldn’t avoid fouling Hart and Wildcat guard Jalen Brunson on the two biggest defensive possessions of the game. And outside Peak and Pryor, Georgetown couldn’t find a consistent source of offense, making the Hoyas dependent on runs generated by their two wing scorers.

Each defeat in conference play has been a knock against Georgetown’s NCAA Tournament hopes, and so this loss doesn’t exactly crush the Hoyas’ slim chances. Particularly after the Seton Hall debacle over the weekend, it’s hard to make too much of losing a game that KenPom estimated the Hoyas had just an 8 percent chance of winning.

Still, the string of one-sided defeats at Villanova stings, particularly given that this was the only one in which the Hoyas were even competitive. It’s particularly hard to stomach a mounting list of losses, including the last two, where you can paint a positive picture by looking just at the effort and the occasional hot streak, and ignoring the inexplicable coaching decisions, the bizarre substitution patterns, and the ensuing defeat. Georgetown plays hard but often not competently, and loses narrowly but loses just the same.

Georgetown returns to action Saturday when the Hoyas host Marquette. Until then, Hoya Saxa.