In the words of Patrick Ewing, “WOOOOOO!!!”
For the third time in three days, your Georgetown MF’ing Hoyas went into Madison Square Garden and exacted revenge, beating Seton Hall 66-58 in the Big East Tournament semifinals, advancing to play on Saturday night for the first time since 2010. After two games of disappointing play in New York, senior forward Jamorko Pickett led the charge, scoring a team-high 19 points while locking down conference co-player of the year Sandro Mamukelashvili on the other end. Down the stretch of an old-school Big East slug fest, the Hoyas came up big time and again, pulling away to earn a chance to dance tomorrow night.
After a several year absence from Friday night at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Georgetown’s return did not disappoint. The Hoyas took the lead almost from the tip, reversing a trend of slow starts that had plagued even their recent hot stretch. Now accustomed to MSG’s tight rims, Georgetown was hitting early from deep, as Pickett connected on a pair of early 3s, while freshman guard Dante Harris, bolder and better by the day, came over a Qudus Wahab pick to bury a three ball from the wing.
Georgetown continued to build, particularly in transition. On the move, Harris hit a driving scoop shot, and then Jahvon Blair hit a patented open-court three-pointer, as the lead eventually swelled to 11.
But as obnoxious as Seton Hall can be, the Pirates are a tough squad and wouldn’t go away easily. With Mamu struggling, it was junior wing Jared Rhoden’s turn to lead the comeback. He drove and banked in a shot to bring the lead to single digits, then after Pickett housed a wildly ambitious three into the side of the backboard like Nikita Mescheriakov (look it up, kids), Rhoden hit a three of his own to bring the lead back to five. A sloppy Hoya turnover led to a Rhoden breakaway dunk just before the half, and suddenly Georgetown’s margin was just two at the break.
When I’m not semi-drunkenly recapping Georgetown basketball games on weekend nights, I’m often running, and there’s an old adage in marathon running: you run the first ten miles with your head, the next ten with your legs, and the last 10k with your heart. Now, I’ve never played Division 1 sports, but I imagine that by the second half of your third game in three days, your head and legs have largely gone by the wayside, and your left with heart. The Hoyas required plenty of it against a give-no-inch team like the Pirates.
In the ensuing second half, Georgetown and Seton Hall tied up six times, and both teams struggled to get clean looks against locked-in defenses. For an on-a-string Hoya squad, Harris and Blair battled bigger guards in the post, and Wahab got large around the rim.
But Pickett deserves the particular shoutout here. Mamu is a man of feints, shakes, side-steps, and a variety of other moving tricks that get defenders off-balance, giving the Georgian Pirate just enough space to use his bulk to generate enough space to get a shot off. But Pickett’s length, quickness, and discipline denied Mamu clean looks for much of the evening. Even so, Mamukelashvili did his share of damage, making a rumbling, sorta-shimmying lay-in to pull the Pirates within one, and later making a free throw to put them up one.
Despite the nip-and-tuck feel of the game, that one-point deficit would be the only one the Hoyas faced after the break. Outside the occasional Mamu bucket and Rhoden’s game-high 22, the Pirates just couldn’t get anything going offensively. Georgetown, for its part, was able to score just enough to stay ahead. Harris (15 points) made a step-in jumper, then a miraculous driving bank shot over the 15-inches-taller Ike Obiagu to put the Hoyas up 2, 57-55, with as many minutes to play.
Crunch time saw both teams trading haymakers. Mamu went at the rim, collided with Wahab on an attempted dunk, missed the dunk, maybe charged, got credit for a block, and ultimately saw the ball rattle in. But the Ball, She Did Not Lie, and Mamu missed the ensuing free throw. Georgetown got the ball back, tied at 57.
Chudier Bile, whose Big East Tournament to that point was alternately anonymous and disastrous, suddenly seized the spotlight with barely 90 seconds to play. The grad transfer forward grabbed the ball at the top of the key and drove down the left side of the lane with abandon, converting an and-one that put the Hoyas up three. After the teams traded free throws, Bile, helped by Wahab, smother a Pirate lay-in at the rim, preserving that one-possession lead with under a minute to play. Free throws by Harris and Pickett, all five of them perfect after a hit-or-miss evening from the stripe, put the game away for good.
Over the course of three games, Georgetown has found different ways to win, with different stars. The Hoyas opened by playing bully ball against Marquette, then relied on the post play of Wahab, the shotmaking of Blair, and the guile of Harris to survive against Marquette.
Tonight was a sum of the parts. All jokes about his occasional offensive overconfidence aside, Pickett played a terrific game, burying threes and converting a nearly perfect 7 for 8 from the floor. Harris seems to have matured a season in just 60 hours, as his sense of when to take matters into his own hands offensively has grown with each passing game. Bile and Blair were imperfect but provided just enough contributions to outweigh those of the Pirates. And everyone contributed to holding Seton Hall to just 8 points in as many minutes down the stretch.
Georgetown last advanced to the Big East Tournament final 11 years ago. It’s been a decade-plus of successes, failures, and changes. The Hoyas will return to the stage where they’ve won as as often as any other Big East team. Improbably, the same team that lost to Navy early in the season also is now one game away from the NCAA Tournament.
Will the Hoyas win, reclaim the throne, and advance? We’ll see tomorrow night. For now, Hoya Saxa.