The BIG EAST is back, ladies and gentlemen! Your Georgetown Hoyas opened conference play with a win tonight, notching an 84-76 victory over the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse. In one of the more improbable stats you will see this season, this means that the Hoyas have now improved to 5-1 all-time in Butler’s home arena. The victory was a team effort, but Greg Malinwoski’s career-high 26 points (and 6 rebounds!) were what sealed it. Jessie Govan was a steadying force, adding 17 points of his own, and Josh LeBlanc was unfazed by his Freshman of the Week honors, contributing a dozen.
Georgetown retained the momentum gained from last Saturday’s victory over Howard, while the Bulldogs might still be reeling from a loss to Florida that was the program’s biggest defeat in decades. The Hoyas were opening conference competition without two players who had been contributing significant minutes in preseason matchups. Mac McClung remains sidelined with an ankle injury, while Trey Mourning is recovering from a concussion.
LeBlanc had the distinction of getting the first Hoya bucket of 2019, after Kamar Baldwin opened up the scoring in this contest. Butler would add five more points before another freshman got in on the action, with James Akinjo knocking down an early triple. Less than 30 seconds later, a block from LeBlanc on the defensive end was collected by Akinjo and dished off to Malinowski, who added his first three-pointer of the game. (Spoiler Alert: It was the first of many.) Govan grabbed a defensive rebound, again fed it to Akinjo, and this time it was LeBlanc making the layup. The Hoyas had gone on an 8-0 run in under a minute and were shooting 7/8 from the field to open the game. A couple more baskets from Malinowski and Georgetown was up 22-12 at the 12 minute mark.
Reversion to the mean is, of course, inevitable. There were bright spots, as Grayson Carter got a basket not long after checking in, but it was bad news for the Hoyas when Baldwin found his shot midway through the first half. A series of ball handling errors, bizarre lineup decisions and an offensive foul on Grayson Carter were part of a sequence that culminated in Henry Baddely hitting a jumper—with Malinowski’s hand in his face—to tie it at 24. Baddely followed that up with another triple, Jahvon Blair checked in to answer with a three, LeBlanc and Joey Brunk traded layups, Govan hit a jumper...and so it went.
Both teams were turning the ball over at an alarming rate; Georgetown was not converting as many second-chance baskets as their opponent. Two miscues by Pickett resulted in a trey for Sean McDermott and another layup for Baldwin, putting the Bulldogs up 38-34 with less than two minutes to go in the opening session. Georgetown’s defensive intensity improved and it was the last time Butler would score before the break. Govan knocked down a three from the corner, then Malinowski drove to the basket and finished off the glass, through contact, off a well-placed inbounds pass from Akinjo. Govan scored the final point of the half, tallying the only (!) free throw the Hoyas managed to make in the first half.
Georgetown opened up scoring in the latter period with a dunk by LeBlanc, assisted by the omnipresent Malinwoski. Butler failed to convert on their first seven possessions, but a series of missed shots and overall underperformance from the freethrow line meant that the Hoyas’ lead did not grow as it could have. At the under-16 media break, they were up 48-40. Govan did not seem to be suffering any untoward effects from an inadvertent kick to the nose he received, flicking it out to Malinowski for a corner three. Jagan Mosely drew a charge, like he does. Jordan Tucker knocked down a triple for the Bulldogs, but Malinowski hit another of his own. For those who have lost count, that brought the senior transfer’s shooting stats to 7/7 on the night. Not too shabby on an individual level, and the team as a whole was playing better than they had all season.
Georgetown’s lead hovered around the double-digit mark, losing ground only when Butler changed up their defensive look or Thompson and Baldwin managed to finish inside around our defenders, then gaining it back when Malinowski would have control of the ball. Govan was a consistent presence as well, knocking down jumpers and grabbing rebounds. When Malinowski drained a between-the-legs step-back three to put Georgetown up by a dozen, the uninitiated might have felt as though the game was in the bag.
Kaleb Johnson and Akinjo each made a pair of free throws, giving the Hoyas a 78-62 advantage with 2:46 remaining. Again, reasonable humans could be forgiven for thinking that this was an insurmountable advantage. Repeat after me, Hoya fans: No lead is safe until the clock reads 00:00.
Butler rebounded well and forced steals. Nate Fowler hit a pair of free throws, Thompson Baddley, and Baldwin made layups, McDermott made a three. With 1:22 left in the game, the Georgetown lead had shrunk to a mere five points. How did the Hoyas hang on for the win? They executed the game plan. Akinjo drew fouls and Govan did what he needed to do- the senior made (most of) his free throws and controlled defensive rebounds.
The Hoyas improved to 11-3 overall with the win at Butler tonight, getting the opening victory in BIG EAST play for the first time in four seasons. Next up, we host the Johnnies at home. Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, and all that jazz. Tipoff is set for Saturday, January 5th, 1pm at Capital One Arena, airing live on CBS.
We Are Georgetown.
(Editor’s Note: How lopsided would the game have been without 14 %#@$ missed freethrows?)