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It’s Been So Long Since Last We Met: Georgetown Opens Season with 70-62 win over UMBC

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Blair’s 23 points, Wahab’s double-double lead inconsistent Hoyas

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

Your mighty Georgetown Hoyas opened their 2020(-21?) season Wednesday night by playing like a team full of newcomers with not enough practice time to gel, beating UMBC 70-62 in a somewhat ragged affair. In short, it was largely as expected. Senior guard Jahvon Blair led all scorers with 23 points despite a relatively inefficient 9-of-22 shooting line, while sophomore center Qudus Wahab recorded an impressive double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds despite being limited by foul trouble.

Eight-plus months after exiting the Big East Tournament shortly before the pandemic forced a stoppage of play across the country, the Hoyas returned to action under very different circumstances. Georgetown opened its season on campus, in McDonough Arena, with nary a fan in attendance. In their place were cut-outs of fans and program luminaries, none greater than former Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr., who passed away during the off-season, and whose name the McDonough court now bears.

The Hoyas rolled out a roster with nine new scholarship players, leaving many new names, games, and numbers for fans to absorb. With teams cancelling games left and right as covid cases surge, it was no sure thing that this Georgetown team would even take the floor.

Once on the court, the Hoyas looked very much the part of a squad that was both shaking off the rust and still learning each others’ names. Georgetown shot just 37 percent from the field against UMBC and turned the ball over 20 times. Georgetown’s non-centers shot a combined 19 for 61 and struggled to create offense in the half court. After an opening cold stretch, the Hoyas took the lead for good midway through the first half, but endured some tense moments in the game’s final minute when careless turnovers and missed free throws allowed UMBC back within two possessions.

There were bright spots in tonight’s mixed bag. Wahab looked dominant in an opening stretch in the second half that saw Georgetown blow the game open. The sophomore big man dominated on the boards, protected the rim on defense, and converted in the paint on offense. Wahab and freshman forward Kobe Clark (10 rebounds in his debut) led the Hoyas to a +20 rebounding margin (+13 on the offensive glass). Clark and classmates Dante Harris and Colin Holloway all recorded their first collegiate points, and each showed attributes that could make them contributors down the line. Both Blair and Siena transfer Donald Carey (13 points, including 3 made 3s) looked like capable bucket-getters, even if their shooting lines (a combined 14-of-34) left a bit to be desired. And the Hoyas generally held UMBC lead guard Darnell Rogers in check and stalled in the Terrier attack for much of the game.

On the other hand, there was plenty else that looked to be a work in progress. Georgetown’s half-court offense looked like a particular question mark, as the Hoyas appear to be short on play-makers, dead-eye shooters, and the other pieces of a functional attack. After a tweet-filled summer, senior forward Jamorko Pickett looked familiarly passive on offense, shooting just 3 of 15 from the field, largely failing to get into the paint with the ball, and sloppily turning the ball over 5 times. Starting point guard and Arkansas transfer Jalen Harris is as fast as advertised, moving the ball quickly in transition, but didn’t yet look comfortable turning that speed into production in the half court. Sophomore center Timothy Ighoefe was in true trick-or-treat form, exerting his will physically on some possessions only to set a moving screen or fumble the ball away on others. Too many possessions devolved into Blair dialing his own number or saw the ball frittered away off fingertips or out of bounds.

Given these pluses and minuses, the ebb and flow of the game was of little surprise. Georgetown scuffled through the first half-plus, scoring just twice in the game’s first six minutes, then slowly building a double-digit lead. That advantage dwindle to just three shortly after intermission, before the Hoyas rattled off a 20-5 run over a six-minute stretch during which they managed not to turn the ball over. From there, Georgetown just barely hung on, going seven-plus minutes without a field goal and giving UMBC more hope down the stretch than was warranted.

None of this should be surprising for a team featuring so many new faces, or one picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. And in the midst of a surge in covid cases, watching any basketball is a luxury, albeit one with complications. At this point, here’s hoping that the Hoyas can keep playing safely next Tuesday, and that they can continue to improve.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Hoya Saxa.