Georgetown didn’t make it easy for Rich Chvotkin, forcing the Hoyas’ legendary radio voice to work into overtime in his 1,400th game calling Hoya basketball. But ultimately the Hoyas avoided a major upset at the hands of the Trojans, pulling out a 102-94 victory.
Largely, the Hoyas can thank the heroics of their two freshman guards. Mac McClung set a new career high with 38 points, including a dagger three-pointer that finally, mercifully put the game on ice. His classmate James Akinjo more than did his part, netting his own career best of 25 points and handing out 7 dimes. The Hoyas’ thrilling, if flawed, win showed everything bad and good about Georgetown’s early-season play.
Following on a pair of losses and an underwhelming win over Appalachian State, Georgetown might have been expected to come out with a sense of purpose Saturday. And with spark plug Joshua LeBlanc stepping into the starting lineup in place of Trey Mourning, who sat with a possible concussion, the Hoyas might have been thought to be ready to play with energy and force against the overmatched Trojans.
That motivation showed up on offense but, as has been the case for much of the non-conference slate, the defense was lacking. Little Rock shooters were left open time and again as the Trojans amassed 52 first-half points. The Hoyas are now outside the KenPom top 100 in defense, and Saturday was an example of why. Georgetown doesn’t stay with opponents off ball, letting shooters spring open and cutters slice to the hoop unmolested. Against the Hoyas, Little Rock scorched the nets to the tune of 58 percent during the first-half firestorm. The Hoyas also don’t force many turnovers, and Saturday took it away just five times in the porous first half.
You certainly can isolate the flaws of specific Georgetown defenders, but, as the Hoyas scuffle through one listless game after another, their shoddy defense increasingly looks like a team-wide problem. They don’t appear to have a coherent scheme, connecting one player to another as the ball moves around the court. There’s little communication, nor much effort. Apart from LeBlanc cleaning up the occasional mistake with an eye-popping block or Jagan Mosely drawing a periodic charge, the team barely registers a pulse on defense.
This is an odd phenomenon for a team coached by Patrick Ewing. As a player, Ewing was defined by his intensity and work ethic. His teams, both at Georgetown and with the Knicks, were intimidating defensively. Those squads didn’t always play beautiful basketball, but they fought. Through forty-plus games, the teams Ewing has coached have not borne much resemblance to those on which he played.
Despite these defensive woes, Georgetown found itself down just 1 at the half, thanks to an offensive eruption from the freshman guards. After a few early turnovers, Akinjo went off for 16 points before the half, canning triples from deep and getting into the paint seemingly at will. He also set up his teammates, including McClung, who poured in 17 first-half points of his own, including a trio of three-bombs.
Whether it was a regression to the mean or more minutes for relative defensive stalwarts Mosely and Kaleb Johnson, Little Rock cooled off after the half, scoring just 10 points in as many minutes. Still, the Hoyas struggled to take or build a lead, in part because they didn’t see much of Govan, who sat long stretches of the second half. When he played, Govan was decent on offense, scoring 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but his indifferent defense was symptomatic of the whole team’s struggles. A few minutes with Govan on the court, playing with 4 fouls, yielded a 12-2 run that put the Hoyas up 8, but the big guy’s careless over-the-back hack with 3 minutes remaining sent him to the bench and set up a tense final few minutes.
Down the stretch, Georgetown committed errors large and small to keep the Trojans hanging around. With the Hoyas up 5 with just 16 seconds to play, Akinjo fouled Markquis Nowell on a three-pointer, and Nowell made all three free throws, giving the Trojans hope. A missed free throw meant Little Rock got the ball back down 3 with 8 to play, and Georgetown intentionally fouled to avoid the three-pointer. With the Hoyas struggling to convert from the free-throw line, the Trojans the ball again got the ball down 3, this time with 5 seconds left. This time, Georgetown for some reason didn’t foul, instead allowing Little Rock a heave to tie the game, a prayer that was answered in the form of a banked-in three-pointer that sent the game to overtime.
The extra session finally saw the right balance, blending the freshmen guards’ heroics with savvy veteran play. McClung hit a step-back jumper to put Georgetown ahead before Johnson drew a charge, grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul, and converted both free-throws to put the Hoyas up 5. The Trojans still clung to hope down 4 with under a minute to play — who knew if regulation would repeat itself? — until Akinjo found McClung open on the wing for a dagger three-pointer to effectively end it.
It’s too early, and these Hoyas are too young, for us to say that this is what Georgetown is. But with one game left before conference play, hopes certainly have adjusted downward. The Hoya defense is awful. Returning players who were expected to take a step forward largely haven’t, although Govan has been reliably excellent on offense before foul trouble today. The freshmen have been as good as advertised, but are prone to youthful mistakes and inconsistency. While they provide hope for the future, the team’s other flaws make it look increasingly like the future won’t arrive this season.
Still, for those of us full of holiday cheer, Saturday provided a few reasons to be thankful. Dynamic freshmen guards heroically carrying an offense. Overtime basketball, however unwelcome, resulting in a victory. And the nostalgic sound of Chvotkin shouting out “Hoyas Win!” Hoya Saxa.