Wednesday night, your Georgetown Hoyas made up for an 8-month off-season by living a whole year – nay, a lifetime – in the course of 40 minutes. Starting a season with NCAA Tournament expectations, the Hoyas immediately went in the opposite direction, falling behind by 19 points against seemingly lowly Mount Saint Mary’s. But it’s always darkest before the dawn, and Georgetown then flipped a switch to make said dawn happen, exerting pressure on defense, moving the ball on offense, and discovering an outside touch en route to a 81-68 win. The victory raised more questions than it answered, but after the way things started, a win’s a win.
A quick look at the box score would deceivingly suggest an unremarkable night for the Hoyas. Omer Yurtseven amassed a double-double in his Georgetown debut, scoring 20 points while hauling in 12 rebounds. Like his teammates, the Yurt had some good (force on the glass, in the low post, and on the roll) and some bad (especially defending in space) but the former outweighed the latter during a critical closing stretch in which the Hoyas scored 20 consecutive points as the Mount went dry. After a stilted first half, sophomore point guard James Akinjo came alive after the break, matching his teammate’s game-high 20 points and notching 4 of his 5 team-high assists during the Hoyas’ final push. And Akinjo’s classmate, shooting guard Mac McClung, was similarly shaky early but hot late, pouring in 10 of his 16 after the break, including a pair of three-pointers during Georgetown’s surge.
If none of these numbers would raise an eyebrow, the game’s flow certainly furrowed, raised, and generally contorted both of them. The visiting Mountaineers came out confident and aggressive, moving the ball with purpose and hitting open shots against a step-slow Georgetown defense. When the Hoyas had the ball, nerves and an alternating man/zone look from the visitors kept anything from clicking. During one particularly brutal stretch, Georgetown missed 13 consecutive shots from the floor, as each Hoya seemed to be looking to dial his own number rather than moving the ball to an open shooter. While no one exactly looked good, the bench was particularly bad, managing to shoot just 3 of 18 on the night. By the time first half mercifully ended, the Hoyas were trailing by 12, an embarrassing start for a team that was favored by nearly twice that much.
Things didn’t get better shortly after the break. By my unofficial count, the first 7 Georgetown possessions after the break featured no more than 1 pass (not counting inbounds). It will not surprise you, then, to know that the Hoyas scored just 2 points but turned the ball over 4 times on these trips up the floor. Soon, Georgetown was behind 46-27. The beautiful aesthetics — sharp kente on the court, eye-popping (if divisive!) home whites, and a fancy new simmer switch at Capital One that dimmed the crowd — contrasted with a brutally ugly display of hoops.
But things changed, first slowly, and then all at once. Yurtseven grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds that he turned into four points, sandwiched around a Jagan Mosely open-court steal that he flipped to Akinjo for a breakaway layup. Having gone 0-fer from deep since the game’s opening minutes, the Hoyas finally connected, with Akinjo and Mosely burying consecutive triples. Akinjo grabbed a rebound, and took it coast-to-coast for an and-one, then stepped into a triple to make the deficit just six. Minutes later, another pair of threes from Mac and newcomer Galen Alexander tied the game at 56.
Even so, the Hoyas weren’t out of the woods. A dry spell with Akinjo on the bench saw the Mountaineers rebuild a lead, with the coach Dan Englestad liberally using timeouts to draw up a play here or reset his defense there. But those timeouts ran out with the Mount leading by 6 and as many minutes to play.
At that point, dam broke: Georgetown scored 20 consecutive points to put the game out of reach. On offense, the ball moved more freely, as a previously scoring-minded Akinjo opted instead to find his teammates, none better than a transition feed to Yurtseven that gave Georgetown its first lead in forever. On defense, the Hoyas alternately pressed and buckled down in the half court, forcing the Mountaineers into some ugly desperation heaves from beyond the arc. By the time the flood was over, we were in garbage time, and Georgetown stunningly, redeemingly, had managed a double-digit win.
There was some stuff to like from tonight’s game, and just as much to dislike. Intriguing newcomers, returns that were frustrating then promising, and the temptation to play out the next four months in one night. There was a feeling of incompleteness, particularly with so many new faces, and with starting power forward Josh LeBlanc in street clothes by coach’s decision. Most of all, though, there was real live basketball, and the promise that, once again, Georgetown’s not going to make it easy for us.