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Whiplash Win: Hoyas upend Marquette, 86-84

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Georgetown’s bubble reinflates as Akinjo & McClung outwork the Golden Eagles

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the madness! After a performance three days ago that created the illusion and functional equivalent of a bye week, your Georgetown Hoyas blew back onto the tournament radar in a big way, upsetting the Marquette Golden Eagles with a rough & tumble upset win. James Akinjo and Mac McClung had 25 and 23 points respectively, with the former making clutch shots throughout and the latter drawing fouls at a critical juncture late in the game when Marquette’s offense had stalled. That duo, along with defensive support from Jagan Mosely, were able to hold the ever-threatening Markus Howard to 25 points.

With all four of the Hoyas’ primary frontcourt players experiencing early foul trouble and a complete inability to establish a strong interior presence, the team developed a rhythm where reserves off the bench facilitated and executed off the initiative of the freshmen guards. It helped that the Golden Eagles’ late-game shooting woes continued, with an extended scoring drought that began around the U8 media break.

Now that we have established what happened, let’s look back at how this game came together. Akinjo opened the scoring with a pullup jumper over Howard, which we can now safely say was foreshadowing. Sacar Anim, who has developed into an unexpectedly significant contributor for Marquette this season, got them on the board with an early triple after missing his first attempt from inside the arc. The Golden Eagles’ turnover issues carried into the early portion of this game, as Mac disrupted a pass before Anim could collect it. Our highlight-generating shooting guard looked primed for one of his signature dunks, but we were deprived of that glory by Anim’s quickness to get back on defense. (Alas.)

Josh LeBlanc and Jessie Govan combined to block a dunk attempt from Theo John on one possession, only to have the sophomore forward throw one down on his next trip into the Hoyas’ end. The swings continued, as Akinjo answered this with a trey and established himself as an outside threat. The freshman PG almost converted a breakaway layup, but Joey Hauser used his long stride to get back in time for a block. LeBlanc sunk a three-pointer of his own, making his fifth out of only seven total attempts on the season. Howard responded with an and-1, followed by a triple from Jamorko Pickett that put the Hoyas up 16-15 at the U12 of the first half. All told, five different Georgetown players would score from beyond the arc.

Kaleb Johnson was back in the lineup after having spent two games in concussion protocol. He demonstrated good judgment by passing up a somewhat clear long look and instead dribbled it toward the basket, where he drew a foul. KJ also took a feed from Trey Mourning for an easy lay-in, giving the Hoyas their first points in the paint midway through the opening session. After a runner from Mac and a putback from John, Govan finally got himself on the board. Georgetown was being outscored 16-4 in the paint and there was no apparent remedy for this. The teams traded leads, but the Hoyas were picking up fouls and being frustrated by those calls to the point where LeBlanc earned a personal counseling session from the referee. (Better than a technical, I suppose, given the final score.)

The first half ended with a long buzzer-beating triple from Joey Hauser that put the Golden Eagles up 39-37, because of course it did. We all saw it coming because we have seen it before. There had been more than 20 lead changes in 20 minutes and the margin between the teams was never greater than three points.

Over the course of the second half, Georgetown earned the win by playing just a little bit better than Marquette. The Hoyas still struggled with communication on offense, took ill-advised quick shots, and their defensive rotations showed the same missed cues and over-helping tendencies that existed earlier in the season. However, the team did a lot of things right, and they provided measured responses when the Golden Eagles went on mini-runs, including one that put Georgetown down 46-39. This was the biggest deficit either team had faced.

James and Mac were running the offense, and giving us a glimpse of the future. The game plan had shifted from trying to get the ball to post players inside—because the frontcourt all had 3+ fouls—to leaving it in the hands of the freshmen and letting them drive or shoot. Akinjo drew defenders when driving to the basket and kicked it back out to Govan for a triple. Mac drove, became a magnet for contact, and converted when the fouls were drawn. Meanwhile, Marquette was struggling from the freethrow line and their shooting percentage was trending downward; they would end up making only 34% from the field on the day.

The Golden Eagles’ last run of the day was an 11-point affair that put Georgetown in a 57-52 hole. Thankfully, James Akinjo had a solution. Or maybe he is the solution. Either way, he knocked down a three pointer, then on a subsequent possession drew two defenders to the basket so that LeBlanc could slip up the baseline to collect the pass and finish easily. Trey Mourning made some foul shots and a jumper before Akinjo chimed in with another triple, and suddenly the teams were locked at 63.

Soon after, Howard picked up his 4th foul. With more than six minutes remaining in the game, Wojo decided he was going to go offense/defense with the best player in the conference. Coach Ewing should send him a thank you note for that decision. Akinjo’s driving floater was simply one moment in an individual 10-point run, after which Mac drew fouls on a series of drives to the basket. Marquette committed a pair of unforced turnovers and Mac answered with a long pullup three. What the Golden Eagles had stopped doing with around 7:30 left on the clock was making field goals. Their points were coming from the occasional set of foul shots; Anim, Sam Hauser and Howard all stepped up in that regard.

Akinjo gave the Hoyas the lead—for good—when Mourning tipped a rebound back to him and the freshman guard’s layup made it 79-77. The easy steal where Mourning swiped the ball from Howard as the star PG attempted to tee up a shot outside the arc would have been viewed as a sign, if our fanbase were not so skittish.

Hauser knocked down a three to make it a two-point game with 46 seconds remaining, but a last-second cameo from Jessie Govan to pull down a rebound, draw the foul, and sink some freethrows gave Georgetown a boost.

After Akinjo sunk a pair of foul shots, the terror was repeated when Howard hit another triple to draw Marquette within one. The Hoyas were up 85-84 with 3 seconds remaining. Pickett was fouled on the inbounds. He made the first freethrow, missed the second, and a scuffle for the ball ensued as time expired without another peep from the whistles of the officiating corps. If you heard a shrill sound echoing through the Fiserv Forum and out of your speakers, that was Wojo’s indignant histrionics.

His cries were in vain, as Georgetown emerged victorious. In a season where Howard seems to be a lock for conference Player of the Year, this was a day where Akinjo was the best player on the court. The Hoyas are going into the BIG EAST Tournament (with seeding still to be decided) with the momentum of a redeeming win and the knowledge that they have kept their options open for the rest of March. How long has it been since that was the case?

Hoya Saxa. Hoyas win.