Entering a showdown with #15 Marquette, Georgetown could have expected a shootout. The Golden Eagles boasted a high-octane offense led by Markus Howard, while the Hoyas’ recent improvement from scuffling to something maybe better than that was largely fueled by their improved scoring attack.
Instead, both teams struggled to find offense. Howard went to the sidelines early with back spasms, never to return. Instead, the Golden Eagles turned to sweet-shooting Sam Hauser, who torched the Hoyas with 7 early points and then a barrage down the stretch, whether from 3, at the rim, in the midrange, or with game-icing free-throws.
For their part, the Hoyas sputtered offensively because they repeatedly hunted their own shots instead of moving the ball to the open man. Mac McClung came out firing, pouring in 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting. But Mac’s early gunning came at the expense of rhythm. Jessie Govan—senior big man and 20 point-per-game scorer—touched the ball just once in the game’s first four minutes, and that was an aimless fumbling beyond the arc. Several Hoyas jacked shots as soon as they touched the ball, perhaps afraid they wouldn’t see it again.
Georgetown’s offensive dysfunction was best captured by a number and a critical sequence. The former was 35 percent, Georgetown’s shooting percentage inside the arc, where they drove into traffic to launch bricky floaters and errant midrange jumpers. The latter came in the game’s closing seconds, when, with the Hoyas trailing by just one, freshman point guard James Akinjo twice drove and attracted 3 defenders, only to shoot and be blocked in each instance rather than kicking out to an open teammate.
Those decisions by Akinjo were clearly mistakes. The freshman point guard has struggled early in Big East play, shooting a combined 14 of 54 across his first 5 conference games. In some high-stakes situations, he’s overlooked open teammates, and for the second straight game, Akinjo ignored coach Patrick Ewing’s play call on a last-second possession. Against Marquette, Ewing called a play to have Trey Mourning set a pick for Akinjo, and then one to spring Govan, who was open for Akinjo to hit for a perimeter jumper. Instead, Akinjo dialed his own number but found no answer.
There is blame to be spread around. The coaching has been head-scratching, whether it’s lineup choices — why is Mourning getting minutes, let alone clutch ones? — or calling timeouts a possession or two too late in to stanch an opponent’s run. There was selfish play across the roster, with guys jacking up shots as soon as they got the ball rather than moving it until a better shot presented itself.
Some of the ball-hogging may be a consequence of two high-usage, freshman guards, who are still trying to prove themselves, sometimes at the expense of offensive rhythm. And to some degree the problem is overstated. Akinjo dropped 8 dimes Tuesday night against just 1 turnover. His tunnel vision may be most problematic in the game’s biggest moments, but it may be limited to those moments as well. The fact that he is capable of distributing — he assisted on four straight Hoya baskets to power a run that pulled Georgetown ahead entering the half — makes the crunch-time gunning all the more irritating.
The Hoyas have a supremely talented freshman class, and freshmen entrusted with the ball and big minutes giveth and they taketh away. That doesn’t make these games any less frustrating in real time, though. Particularly with Howard out of the game, this felt like a missed opportunity.
The loss drops Georgetown to 2-3 in Big East play. That’s a painful mark, given that the Hoyas seem to have been in a position to win every game, and that two of their losses have come on the final possession or in overtime. Particularly with Marquette, Providence, and Xavier all missing key pieces when facing the Hoyas, Georgetown’s record feels like more of a problem than the raw wins and losses suggest.
There’s also a lot of the schedule yet to come. While it’s a cliche, every night in this conference promises to be a dogfight this year. The past week could be a harbinger of doom, or it could be a learning moment for a team with key players who are still learning how to play winning basketball at this level. Only time will tell.
Unfortunately, time is something the Hoyas will have plenty of as they lick their wound for six days before hosting Creighton next Monday. Hoya Saxa.