Georgetown picked up a huge statement win over Illinois in the Gavitt Tipoff Classic in front of a nearly sold out crowd at the State Farm Center on Tuesday night.
Now let’s just ignore for a moment that the Fighting Illini are picked towards the bottom of the Big Ten standings and were without one of their better players in Trent Frazier who was ruled out with a concussion.
None of that matters for this Georgetown team. What matters is the winning.
In coach Patrick Ewing’s 33 games in charge this was by far the Hoyas best non-conference victory and it came about in a bit of surprising fashion in that it was the freshmen that led the way in a hostile environment. And to be fair this isn’t last year’s Illinois squad. This is a new group that loves to force turnovers and features five-star point guard Ayo Dosunmu under the guidance of the same Brad Underwood who dismantled Georgetown in the 2016 Maui Classic while with Oklahoma State.
Now while Georgetown’s non-conference schedule is better than last season, there really isn’t any wiggle room if this team wants to be in the mix come March. Winning at Illinois was a must and the Hoyas got the job done in a game that featured nine lead changes and 16 ties.
Let’s take a look at how it happened:
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
As mentioned above, this was the coming out party for James Akinjo, Mac McClung, and Josh LeBlanc. Yes, each player has some flashes of brilliance in Georgetown’s first two wins of the season over UMES and Central Connecticut but beating a Big Ten school on the road in a nationally televised game is just different.
With Georgetown clinging to a one point lead in the final minute, Akinjo was as cool as you like. With the shot clocking winding down Akinjo split a double team and then hit a floater before being fouled. Naturally Akinjo hit the free throw to put the Hoyas up 84-80. Akinjo did so many things on Tuesday that Hoyas fans have been waiting to see from a point guard for quite some time. Akinjo led Georgetown with 19 points and seven assists.
Obviously it’s hard to have been on the internet at any point over the last year and not seen the highlights from McClung but now that he’s doing them in a Blue Hoyas jersey it’s different. Now while most people will talk - and rightfully so - about his steal and reverse dunk that put Georgetown up 75-72, his assist on Greg Malinowski’s 3-pointer on the previous possession was just as big as it gave the Hoyas a lead they would never surrender. McClung’s ability to attack the rim and not only finish but find open shooters caused Illinois lots of problems.
LeBlanc finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks but even with those numbers what might be more impressive was his emotion after two emphatic dunks. LeBlanc clearly has a feel for the game on both ends as he showed with his two blocks.
PULLING THE RIGHT STRINGS
Ewing on many occasions pulled the right strings on Tuesday. With a deeper roster than last season, Ewing has more options and combinations to play with and it’s hard to argue with his choices in Champaign.
Kaleb Johnson, who started all 30 games last season, didn’t see any action in the first half as the Hoyas took a slim lead into the break. Ewing, who used nine players in that half, was quick to insert Johnson into the second period when Jamorko Pickett picked up his third foul. Johnson responded with two quick baskets on his own put backs and finished with six points in seven minutes.
Ewing also trusted Malinowski late in the game and the William & Mary transfer responded for the most part minus one poor inbounds pass. Malinowski hit a late three, picked up three rebounds, and played some solid defense in 11 minutes.
In continuing his role off the bench as instant offense, Jahvon Blair was just as advertised in scoring 11 points in 13 minutes. Blair picked his spots in knocking down 4 of his 5 shots, including three from deep.
SURVIVING WITHOUT PICKETT
Jamorko Pickett figures to be one of the most important players for Georgetown this season but his contributions were limited on Tuesday night. Pickett scored five of the Hoyas first 10 points but was never really the same after picking up a technical foul nearly five minutes into the game for jawing with Aaron Jordan after a made basket. The sophomore, who came into the game averaging 11.5 points per game, failed to score the rest of way while grabbing six rebounds and committing three turnovers in 15 minutes. Pickett did come up with an important block at the end of the game as Ewing subbed him back in for defensive purposes. Pickett finished with a career best three rejections.
The Hoyas are now 1-2 in Gavitt Tipoff Games....Georgetown made its final 14 free throws attempts in finishing the game 14 for 16 from the line. The only misses came early on as Pickett missed his first two free throws of the season….In keeping with shots from the charity stripe, Akinjo is now a perfect 17 for 17 for the season through three games….McClung went 0 for 4 from 3-point range and has yet to make a shot from deep this season (0 for 11)....Georgetown won despite 22 turnovers to 15 assists.