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Your Heart-Attack Hoyas Are Back! Georgetown Pulls Off Thriller at Illinois, 88-80

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Freshmen trio’s coming out party highlights huge road win.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

YES. Your Georgetown Fighting Hoyas Have Arrived. Our boys went into a hostile arena and took down a tough opponent Tuesday night, winning a 88-80 thriller over the Illinois Fighting Illini in the Gavitt Games. The win instantly became Georgetown’s signature non-conference win of the Patrick Ewing Era and the coming-out party for three talented Hoya freshmen.

The headliner of the evening was James Akinjo, who put up a team-high 19 points and 7 assists. The freshman floor general got into the lane at will, found open teammates cutting the rim, and hit big shots. He showed a tight handle, surprising strength for his size, and, as Coach Ewing put it afterward “some nu-...uh, cajones.” After two games where Akino seemed surprisingly averse to getting into the lane, Illinois couldn’t keep him out of the paint. The biggest moment came with Georgetown clinging to a one-point lead with 40 seconds remaining. Akinjo split a trap off a pick-and-roll, drove to the free-throw line, and elevated for a HIGH DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY 15-foot floater. The shot rattled home, and Akinjo both drew the foul and converted the and-one for the dagger.

Akinjo wasn’t alone, though, as Josh LeBlanc went for 14 points and a team-high 7 rebounds to go with 2 blocks and a steal. LeBlanc jumps off the screen with his energy and athleticism, and puts those traits to good use with his constant engagement. Against the Illini, he had two vicious dunks, one capitalizing on an open cutting lane, the other on a weak side put-back. LeBlanc also is a terror on defense, generating an open-court steal and turning it into a critical transition bucket, and providing the last line of defense at the rim. Opportunity presents itself, and LeBlanc seizes it.

The third, but certainly not last, of the first-year stars was Mac McClung, who kicked in 12 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and a pair of steals. Mac showed keen court awareness against the Illini, fearlessly attacking the tin when given the chance, but also finding open teammates, sometimes at next-level angles. Stuck in a seemingly dead drive under the basket, McClung was able to whip the ball out to an open Jahvon Blair, who canned an open triple. A drive into traffic yielded a critical three-pointer from Greg Malinowski. Of course, Mac wouldn’t be Mac without the highlights, which included a circus lay-in in the first half and an open-court steal leading to a reverse slam in the game’s waning minutes.

The trio’s heroics were fully necessary to pull out this win. Illinois plays the high-tempo, pressing style that has typified Brad Underwood’s teams, and that energy fueled a fervent home crowd. That defense forced 22 Hoya turnovers, each of which seemed to produce Illini points. Many of those buckets were by Illinois’s own star freshman, Ayo Dosunmu, who scored a game-high 25 points.

Against these seemingly long odds, the Hoyas’ usual solutions weren’t there. Georgetown’s leading scorer, Jessie Govan, took just two shots in the first half, and seven on the evening, struggling to find space against the swarming Illini defense. Meanwhile, the Hoyas’ presumed second option, Jamorko Pickett, managed just five points in an evening marred by foul trouble and sloppy ball handling.

But the freshmen were equal to the task. After two meh performances to open the season, tonight was the arrival we’ve been waiting for. The freshmen Hoyas showed all of their promise, even if there were more than a few mistakes mixed in. This game was beautiful, sloppy, exhilirating, and nerve-wracking. I would have watched it for six more hours. It was awesome. I cannot wait for Friday. Hoya Saxa.