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Akin-Go-Go: Georgetown Comes Back to Beat Xavier, 80-73

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Akinjo’s 23-point second half fuels Hoyas’ big finish

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

BACK TO BACK BABY. Your Georgetown Flying Hoyas shook off a crappy opening half to run the villain Xavier Musketeers out of the damn gym in the second half, hanging 52 points after the break en route to a 80-73 win. James Akinjo powered the Hoyas’ second-half surge, scoring all 23 of his game-high total after the break while also distributing the rock and playing sturdy defense. The win was the Hoyas’ second straight, the first time in almost a calendar year that they’ve managed consecutive conference victories, and the first time in three seasons that they’ve sniffed .500 in the Big East heading into February.

The first 20 minutes of this game resembled roughly every Georgetown-Xavier game that didn’t involve Tre Campbell Inexplicably Raining 3s. Xavier came out with energy, the Hoyas had none, and soon the Musketeers were up 9-0. The visitors controlled the boards, the pace (slow, which is still weird that the Hoyas don’t like to be slowed down), and the attitude. Having lost in Cincinnati to this same squad after giving away an early lead, Georgetown might have been expected to come out firing Thursday night, but the opposite proved true. The Hoyas just couldn’t find a rhythm, missing all 8 of their first-half three-point attempts and not finding much offense inside, with Jessie Govan sitting for long stretches. Even a technical foul on Human Man Bun Zach Hankins for woofing at Govan seemed to benefit Xavier more than the two points Mac McClung made on the ensuing free throws. After scrapping just to stay within shouting distance, Georgetown being down 8 at the half felt about right.

Halftime changed all of that. Out of the break, the Hoyas pushed the pace and found their stroke from deep. In its first 16 possessions after the break, Georgetown scored a scorching 33 points, erasing Xavier’s lead and assuming a 4-point advantage of its own. Akinjo was the main force behind both the pace and the long-distance sniping. He took his man off the dribble to finish a tough drive and covert the and-one, three of seven straight points that kept the Hoyas within striking distance, then found Govan for a turnaround jumper.

And then began an avalanche of threes. Akinjo, then Xavier wing Naji Marshall, then Akinjo again, then Musketeer wing Ryan Welage, then Govan, then Xavier guard Quentin Goodin, then Jagan Mosely from the corner all made three-pointers, all in a three-minute span. For Georgetown, the makes were the first four made triples of the game, a welcome turnaround after a frigid first half from outside. Akinjo kept things going even when mainstay Govan sat, burying another pair of triples sandwiched around a feed to an open Trey Mourning, who improbably got in on the fun, sinking his fourth three of the season.

The Hoyas couldn’t quite pull away. Xavier kept pace offensively thanks to a couple of forces. One was Banked Three-Pointers by Quentin Goodin. All joking aside, Goodin’s two carom triples were as important as they were fluky, keeping Xavier neck-and-neck with the Hoyas even while the tide otherwise seemed to be turning Georgetown’s way. The other cause — offensive rebounding — was less surprising, particularly after the Musketeers played double-big against Georgetown the first time around. In all, Xavier grabbed 12 second chances, turning those into 16 critical points, including a pair of Hankins put-backs over Mourning that kept Xavier within 3 points with as many minutes to play.

With the game on the line, though, the Hoyas came up with a pair of critical defensive stops. Having been abused by Hankins in the post, Govan finally got his revenge, poking the ball lose to an opportunistic Akinjo. After the Hoyas couldn’t score, Akinjo wrestled the ball loose from Marshall, forcing another rare turnover for the Georgetown defense. Eventually, a put-back by Jamorko Pickett, in his only basket of the game, put the game on ice.

Akinjo deserves headline status. After a number of games where he struggled to find the balance between scoring and passing, Akinjo manipulated the Xavier defense tonight, burying triples when the Musketeers sagged off of him and driving when the defense closed in.

But he wasn’t alone. Josh LeBlanc injected life into a listless first half, eventually finishing with 17 points, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Mosely played sturdy second-half defense and buried a pair of corner threes. And even guys who had subpar evenings made plays that added up to victory: Mac, whose shot wasn’t there tonight, hitting a cutting LeBlanc in both halves for easy baskets; Greg Malinowski, whose shot hasn’t been there in some time, grabbing an offensive rebound to hit — again — a cutting LeBlanc for a lay-in; Govan, whose defense has been rightly maligned, coming up with a steal and a block in the closing minutes; and Pickett, who was benched in favor of Kaleb Johnson, getting his lone basket when it managed most.

Facing four road games and a home date with Villanova in the next six, Georgetown had to have this game, and the Hoyas got it. They now sit at 4-4 in the Big East, improbably in sole possession of third place as of right now. To maintain that spot, they’ll need to up their play yet again, as a road trip to visit the defending national champions awaits. Georgetown hasn’t beaten Villanova in 8 straight match-ups. After tonight, doing so feels a little less crazy.