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La Salvation: Hoyas Lucky to Edge Explorers, 69-62, After Another Second-half Implosion

Georgetown wins first half 41-21, loses second 41-28

Rafael Suanes/Georgetown Univ.

When your Georgetown Hoyas released their 2022-23 schedule, many fans believed that the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic would not be a strong enough test. The reality was quite different. The Hoyas were fortunate to follow up their Friday shellacking to Loyola Marymount with a narrow, heart-attack-inducing win against the La Salle Explorers, 69-62.

In the first half, the Hoyas dominated the paint and demonstrated the kind of defense that has been all too lacking in recent years but barely avoided another epic second half collapse.

The Hoyas maintained the same starting five and started the game with an impressive 10-0 run, with Brandon Murray and Qudus Wahab responsible for the early scoring. The defense looked sharp, keeping the Explorers scoreless for the first four minutes of the game. Akok Akok made his presence felt with two early blocks.

Jordan Riley was the first Hoya off the bench, and the Hoyas built on their lead. The Explorers did not have the size to stop Wahab and surprisingly chose to not double team. La Salle looked listless early on, and the Hoyas led 21 to 8 after La Salle’s Josh Nickelberry and the Hoyas’ Jay Heath traded 3-pointers. The Hoyas extended the lead to 28 to 10 after two Jordan Riley free throws with seven minutes left in the half.

Denver Anglin entered the game and immediately fed Wahab for two more points. The Hoyas’ defense was stifling, and, for the first time all year, their opponents could not find breathing room at the 3-point line. A Denver Anglin 3-pointer made it 35-10 with five minutes left. La Salle responded with an 8-0 run, but the Hoyas continued to attack the paint and claimed a dominant 41-21 lead at half.

Wahab and Murray were the unquestioned stars of the first half, with 15 and 10 points respectively. The Hoyas’ defense held the Explorers to 27% shooting overall and two 3-pointers. Another bright spot was the Hoyas’ 10 bench points. The only worrisome sign for Georgetown fans was the poor ball movement (5 assists versus 6 turnovers).

To the surprise of no one, La Salle came out very strong to start the second half, with Jahmir Brickus scoring six quick points. The Hoyas responded by attempting to attack the paint, but an energized Explorers team picked up the pressure and cut the lead to 13 a mere three minutes into the second half.

La Salle increasingly drove the ball, drawing a third foul on Wabab and then on Murray. Coach Ewing inserted Ryan Mutombo and Bryson Mozone who helped stabilize matters, and the Hoyas expanded their lead back to 20, forcing a timeout from La Salle. However, La Salle would not go quietly and trailed by 16 at the ten-minute mark of the second half. A Hoyas’ highlight was an (intended?) Primo Spears to Riley alley-oop.

The Hoyas started to fatigue (unsurprising given the heavy minutes allotted to the starters this season), and Bryson Mozone fouled out after having played only fourteen minutes. The Hoyas were helped by several missed La Salle free throws, but nevertheless led only by 8 points with four minutes left. The Hoyas resorted to increasingly desperate one on one play down the stretch, eerily reminiscent of Friday’s doomed second half against Loyola Marymount.

The lead melted to 4 after two Riley turnovers, and the situation looked bleak after Murray fouled out with nearly three minutes left. The Hoyas’ massive lead had dissipated completely, and the two teams found themselves tied at 62-62 with two minutes left after a Brickus 3-pointer.

Fortunately, the Hoyas found some late life as Wahab continued his strong play in the post, and Spears managed a steal and two free throws. La Salle’s shooting touch disappeared, and the Hoyas squeaked out a 69-62 victory.

Make no mistake: Despite the quasi-respectable victory margin, the Hoyas were lucky to escape Jamaica with this win. Although the defense looked improved against the Explorers, the Hoyas benefited from La Salle’s incompetence from 3 (20%) and especially the free throw line (44%). The half-court offense consisted entirely of Wahab post-ups and one on one drives. The Explorers are undersized and were picked to finish second to last in the Atlantic 10 Conference, so this recipe is likely to prove disastrous against better competition. The Hoyas managed only 9 assists on the day, compared to 14 turnovers.

Equally concerning is how the heavy minutes Patrick Ewing has loaded on his starters has affected their play—especially Spears who scored only 2 points on 0-7 shooting. For this GU team to be semi-respectable, it will need to share the ball and rely more on its bench. Unlike last year, Ewing has some promising pieces that he can insert when his players aren’t moving the ball or are obviously fatiguing.

Hoyas fan can treasure this island win but will surely hope for far better play against American on Wednesday.

Until next time, Hoya Saxa.