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Bullet, Dodged: Georgetown Beats Liberty, 88-78

Hoyas Snuff Out Pesky Flames with Second Half Run

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

Your Georgetown Hoyas outran a potential upset against the upstart Liberty Flames Monday night, pushing the pace en route to an 88-78 win. James Akinjo led a balanced attack with a game-high 19 points, matching his career high, while senior star Jessie Govan turned in a workmanlike double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. The win completed a 3-0, if far from perfect, home stand for the Hoyas, clearing the decks ahead of a big trip to Syracuse this weekend.

After two unconvincing wins over Campbell and Richmond, Georgetown looked at risk against a red-hot Liberty squad. Through twenty minutes of plays, the Hoyas hadn’t totally shaken that concern. Georgetown got out and ran in the first half, getting ahead of the Flames’ defense and finding open shots. Mac McClung (12 points) particularly looked comfortable in the open court, while Jahvon Blair (9 points) hit a couple of threes in the open court.

But the same defensive inattentiveness and disorganization that has plagued Georgetown of late continued through the first half against Liberty. The Flames connected on 7 of 15 three-point attempts during the first half, turning ball movement and sloppy Hoya rotations into one open shot after another. Thanks to those Flame buckets and a heap of Hoya turnovers, Georgetown clung to just a two-point lead at the break.

That all changed after the half. The Hoyas buckled down defensively, staying home on perimeter shooters, managing to watch both ball and man, and yielding just a pair of jumpers across nearly eight minutes of game action. In contrast to their early hot shooting, the Flames were reduced to a flicker in the second half, connecting on just 6 of 21 three-point attempts. A Georgetown team that’s been foul averse also didn’t gift Liberty any points, allowing just 5 free-throw attempts throughout the game.

At the same time, Georgetown used all those missed Liberty shots to push the ball up the court. The Hoyas managed 22 points over the same period to blow open a close game.

Georgetown didn’t get to 88 points on the back of just one player. Georgetown assisted on on 17 of 29 made baskets, continuing an early trend where the Hoyas rank 17th nationally in dropping dimes. While Akinjo is far and away the Hoyas’ leader in assists, Georgetown has proven adept at moving the ball opportunistically to the open shooter.

Monday, those assists were balanced, on the negative side of the ledger, by plenty of giveaways. Liberty attempted to overcome its size disadvantage by doubling the Hoyas in the post and putting a third defender in the lane to clog passing lanes. To some degree, the Flames were successful, forcing 19 Georgetown turnovers.

Fortunately, just as often, overcommitting to the strong side of the floor left the Hoyas clear driving lines and open looks from three, where the Hoyas connected on 11 of 18 tries. That scoring wealth was spread around. Six Hoyas scored at least nine points, a figure that was matched by Blair as well as Jamorko Pickett, who also kicked in 5 rebounds and 5 assists. For both sophomores, it was somewhat it was a reemergence, with Blair returning from a one-game benching and Pickett coming off the pine. Pickett’s play was particularly welcome, with the bulk of his contributions coming inside the arc, beyond which he’s spent too much time lingering early this season.

Ewing addressed both lineup changes after the game, acknowledging that he made them because of lackluster play earlier in the week in practice. Greg Malinowski (just 4 points in 10 minutes before leaving with a knee injury) had acknowledged the same practice shortcomings after the Richmond game. Ewing pointed out, rightly, that the Hoyas, “instead of keeping on our foot on the gas, we let go, and they were able to come back.” Even so, tonight’s performance eases some of the frayed nerves after four games that ranged from mediocre to bad.

Having avoided the Liberty trap, the Hoyas can now turn their attention to Saturday, when they will face a much bigger test in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse will be easily Georgetown’s best opponent yet, in a setting that’s always challenging, particularly for a young team. After the game, the Hoyas seemed eager. So are we. Hoya Saxa.