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A Foul Affair: Hoyas valiantly battle #1 Duke, fall 81-73

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Akinjo with 19pts/6ast, Yurtseven drops 21pts in the 2nd half

2K Empire Classic- Duke Blue Devils v Georgetown Hoyas Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Expectations were running high for your Georgetown Hoyas this evening as they tipped off against the much-loathed Blue Devils. Coming off a win over Texas in Thursday’s game where the rotations were tight and players steady, this looked like a different team than had faced lesser competition in the first few games. While the result ultimately ends up in the “L” column, Georgetown showed both talent and perseverance this evening in an 81-73 decision. James Akinjo is showing himself to be a true leader, and Omer Yurtseven — when he can avoid foul trouble — will be a dangerous weapon in BIG EAST play.

Momentum favored the Hoyas at the start, when Jamorko Pickett controlled the tip and shuttled it off to to Akinjo who broke through coverage for the easy bucket. Vernon Carey Jr., expected to the Duke’s biggest threat after scoring 31 in their opening round game of the 2k Classic, answered by driving inside for a layup of his own. Coming off a screen set by Yurtseven, Akinjo got himself another bucket. The style of play from Georgetown was aggressive on both the offensive and defensive ends; the pace was quick, crisp, and controlled.

The Hoyas were converting on offense, but when the defense could not prevent shots, Pickett and Yurtseven were struggling to keep the Blue Devils from getting second chance shots in their own end. A particularly clear lapse in the rotation occurred when Jack White was left open for a corner three, though Mac McClung (or McClure, as he was christened by the crack announcing duo) answered with a triple of his own. Mere seconds after this, heading into the U16 media break, Yurtseven picked up his second foul and retreated to the bench where he would stay for the duration of the half.

Georgetown was getting offensive contributions from their bench during this period, with Qudus Wahab subbing in to drop a half-dozen quick points, as well as Galen Alexander hitting a freethrow, layup, and three-pointer. A freethrow from Cassius Stanley was the only points tallied by the Blue Devils during a 10-1 Hoyas run, which saw our guys in gray jump out to a 29-18 lead. (It helps that Duke was only shooting ~23% up until this point, though Georgetown’s defense deserves a lot of credit for that statistic.)

Things changed, as they often do. After a long miss from Akinjo, Joey Baker pulled up and knocked down a long jumper. Wendell Moore Jr. drove and layed in one of his own. Pickett gave up an inconvenient turnover, and McClung was whistled for a questionable foul — his third — as as the result of a hard collision with Tre Jones. A poorly-contested triple from Baker and Carey dunking through/between/over Wahab and Mosely meant that Georgetown was on the wrong end of both a 13-2 run and the unwritten universal officiating law that describes the myriad ways in which middle-aged adults wearing vertical stripes are permitted to assist Duke’s defensive scheme.

The Hoyas got the ball back with 34.2 seconds remaining in the opening half, and it was clear that they were planning to hold for the final shot. It was equally apparent that it would be up to the point guard to create his own magic, as the Blue Devils were swarming him outside the perimeter. Akinjo masterfully navigated through Duke’s entire lineup, probably half their bench, and maybe a few alumni as well, getting the bucket and tying things up for Georgetown going into the break.

If you blinked coming back from halftime, you missed how the Hoyas suddenly found themselves in a 6-point hole. When Carey, Moore, Jones and Stanley weren’t scoring, the referees were calling an endless parade of fouls. (Seriously. Both squads racked up more charges than Amazon on Black Friday.) For a team that had thrived on the fast pace and aggressive stance in the first half, this had a devastating effect on the Hoyas’ offensive cadence. I am sure that Georgetown fans in the Garden were screeching in protest, but it would have been impossible to hear them over the cacophony of whistles coming from the officiating crew. Midway through the second half, there was a period of multiple minutes where neither team scored, yet at least five fouls were called.

Yurtseven, exiled to the bench during the opening session, was doing an admirable job of keeping the Hoyas within shouting distance now that he was back on the court. All of Georgetown — fans, players, coaches, probably a few professors and/or Jesuits — got riled up with just over 9 minutes remaining when it appeared as though Mac had converted off a steal, only to have the basket waved off because of a phantom holding call on Akinjo. Coach Patrick Ewing was not okay with this. He stormed out onto the court towards the officials to loudly register his discontent, had to be hauled back to the sidelines by Louis Orr, and continued to express his opinions from the new location. For his contributions, the referees awarded him a Technical foul. A play that should have helped the Hoyas chip away at the deficit isntead turned into a 5-point swing for the Blue Devils.

The Hoyas were down 65-53 with 9:11 remaining. Given that the players were being restricted from what would under normal circumstances be considered standard basketball maneuvers, it is admirable that the team maintained their composure as well as they did. It briefly appeared as though Y7 had fouled out by attempting to turn around while holding the ball. After a video replay review, he was reinstated because the tape indicated that Carey had not allowed sufficient freedom of movement within the cylinder. After a sequence of four jumpers from Yurtseven, one with a smooth assist from Myron Gardner, Georgetown was hanging on.

There was a seemingly interminable period were the Hoyas strung together consecutive defensive stops but could not pair them with offensive execution. (Note: Considering how much his 21 points did for the team in the latter half, we will not dwell on Yurtseven’s ill-advised three attempt from the top of the key. I assume he learned his lesson.) The dam eventually broke, with Josh LeBlanc’s hustle and Y7’s tenacious rebounding inside facilitating an 8-0 run for the Hoyas, now down 77-71 with 1:25 remaining. A pair of made freethrows from Akinjo cut the difference to four.

The game concluded with some head-scratching clock management, some Blue Devil foul shots, and a final score of 81-73. Georgetown fought hard and should be extremely proud of their performance tonight. They played with tenacity and poise, and were met with better defense from the referees than was mustered by the Blue Devils at many points within the game. Let’s hope everyone can channel their rage into something productive.

Next up is UNCG on 11/30. Everybody go eat some turkey and try to relax, because in the last two days we have been shown that this team is pretty damn good.

Hoya Saxa.