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Pumped Up, Faked Out: Hoyas can’t hang on at Nova, fall 84-74

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Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

After stringing together a pair of BIG EAST wins, optimism was high for your Georgetown Hoyas as they traveled up 95 to take on the #3-ranked Villanova Wildcats. While the Hoyas did not emerge victorious, covering the spread but coming up short on the scoreboard by a 84-74 margin, it seems as though the optimism is holding strong for a team that is finally showing some consistency.

Qudus Wahab was key to Georgetown’s early positioning, as the ‘Cats don’t have a stand-alone answer to his size inside, and he finished the day with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Jahvon Blair continued to be the more reliable presence for the Hoyas, with 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. Jamorko Pickett and Chudier Bile were both also in double figures, despite significant early foul trouble for the latter. Dante Harris was charged with covering Colin Gillespie, and with no allowances being made for their vastly different levels of experience, executed this task admirably.

The critical parts of both teams’ offensive strategies showcased themselves early in this contest. Wahab opened the scoring with a dunk over Jeremiah Robinson-Earl; Jermaine Samuels answered with the first of his 6 three-pointers. Neither squad was shooting with great accuracy, nor were any glaring gaffes apparent, and the teams remained within a couple baskets of each other. Wahab was taking care of the inside game, Pickett was active on rebounding, and Harris & Blair were knocking them down from mid-range. On the offensive end for Villanova, they were getting open looks because Georgetown simply could not resist biting on every shot fake and over-helping in such a way that perimeter shooters were left unguarded. Samuels, typically only a 30% long-range shooter, was making the Hoyas pay for this habit.

Early foul trouble for Wahab and Chudier Bile created frontcourt rotation challenges for the Hoyas. During one period when Wahab was largely on the bench, Nova swept out to a 30-20 advantage. Immediately upon reentering the game, Wahab dropped in a hooker and followed it with a huge block on the defensive end, triggering a run that brought the Hoyas back to within one point, 30-29. What set these two teams apart today was the ability to capitalize on the opponent’s mistakes. When Villanova made an error, Georgetown sometimes made a single basket then resumed the back-and-forth; when the Hoyas had miscues, on multiple occasions they became 7-0 Villanova runs.

The Hoyas regained the lead, 35-33, with 2:57 left in the first half when Bile drove the baseline and finished an up & under layup. That would be their final points of the first half. Justin Moore made a layup, Georgetown turned it over after some shot clock confusion, and Pickett gave away a foul and two free throws with only 6 seconds remaining. The Hoyas went into the break trailing 37-35 after Blair’s 35’ heave narrowly missed.

To open the second half, Bile faked out his defender and drilled a three; Robinson-Earl and Wahab traded dunks shortly thereafter. Bile, who had been able to draw some of the inside heat away from Wahab, picked up his 4th foul at the 18:19 mark. During a 4-minute period of play where Georgetown failed to score a field goal, buckets from Moore, Samuels, and a triple from Cole Swider pushed Nova ahead to a 55-47 advantage at 12:19. Credit to the entire Georgetown team, but especially Blair and Harris, for executing the Hoyas’ offense during subsequent minutes in a way that did not appear haphazard, desperate, or disorganized.

Even when their efforts fail, they don’t flail, and that is a marked improvement.

In this case, they organized a successful sequence that played to the Hoyas’ strengths and properly capitalized off Nova’s missed shots and turnovers. Fouls be damned, Bile reentered the game at the 11:25 mark. Pickett banked a layup in off the glass. Blair knocked down a three, off the assist from Harris, who followed it up with a triple of his own. Pickett knocked down a jumper from just inside the arc, and it was tied 60-60 with 8:30 remaining.

Harris streaked through the paint for a layup, Wahab converted off the feed from Pickett, and Blair dropped a bomb from three in response to yet another 3-pointer from Samuels, giving their Hoyas a 67-66 lead with 5:35 left to play. If asked to pick a turning point where Georgetown’s chances for the win got wrecked, the sequence where Wahab got swarmed and couldn’t complete the dunk and then Caleb Daniels nailed a three is the strongest contender. Instead of a 1-point margin, the five-point swing left the Hoyas trailing by six.

One could also argue that the trajectory got irreparably altered when the referees on the court at Nova’s Finneran Pavilion whistled Blair for an “intentional” foul with 54 seconds remaining, awarding the home team both two free throws AND possession (Ed. Note: Honestly, the fact that Coach Ewing didn’t argue that persistently and at a volume which could be heard at the Jersey Shore...I have questions.). The final score of 84-74 had a margin somewhat inflated by free throws, and does not reflect how tightly locked the two teams were.

If the team can learn to bite on fewer shot fakes and resist the urge to over-help on defense, they will be able to win games like these against the Wildcats going forward. The ability to lock down an opponent’s hot shooting, avoiding performances like Samuels’ 32-point afternoon, will pay dividends regardless of which team they face. I hope you have enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of snack preparation and Puppy Bowl viewing - without the joy that a win would have brought, but perhaps with a satisfied sense that the team is continuing to improve.

That’s what fans and players want - for the team to keep working and getting better. While that’s happening (and even when they have setbacks, as all of us do), they deserve support from the community. The students over at Thompson’s Towel — who you may want to follow, if you aren’t already — had a good piece on this, which is worth your time:

Next up, Georgetown sees Creighton for the second time in a week, hosting the Jays for a 9pm tipoff from McDonough on Tuesday 2/9, set to air on CBSSN.

And now, bring on the Bagel Bites. Hoya Saxa.