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FEAST OR FAMINE: Hoyas Avoid Late Letdown, Beat UMBC Retrievers 79-70

Heath (25 points) and Spears (20 points) dominant in a welcome win

Rafael Suanes/Georgetown Univ.

Your Georgetown Hoyas desperately needed a win today after a historically bad loss to the American Eagles. Fortunately, after a tepid start, the Hoyas finally demonstrated the type of play that fans expected after a ballyhooed offseason.

With Brandon Murray still nursing a lower body injury, Wayne Bristol started his first game of the season. The lineup change did not give the Hoyas an immediate jolt of energy. UMBC was the better team early and started the game on a 7-0 run. The Hoyas would not score until three and half minutes into game and struggled to rotate on to UMBC’s experienced shooters. UMBC led 9-2 at the first televised timeout.

Jay Heath started to heat up for the Hoyas, hitting back-to-back jumpers. Bryson Mozone entered the game after Bristol fouled UMBC sniper, Matteo Picarelli, on a three. UMBC continued to exploit the Hoyas’ poor defensive rotations while Jay Heath did his best to keep the Hoyas in the game with a variety of drives and step-back jumpers.

The Hoyas finally found a rhythm as Akok asserted himself defensively while Mozone ran the floor aggressively. After a Spears three pointer, the Hoyas were down only two at the seven-minute mark. Mozone put the Hoyas up shortly thereafter with a corner 3. The play then turned somewhat sloppy, with Qudus Wahab struggling with UMBC’s double-teams, and UMBC’s outside shots missing the mark. However, Heath and Spears continued their stellar first half play, and the defensively challenged half ended with the Hoyas and Retrievers tied 42-42.

Jay Heath was the clear star of the first half for Georgetown, scoring 15 points on 6-9 shooting. Spears added 12 points and a very welcome 3 assists. The Hoyas’ were uncharacteristically hot from the 3-point line, shooting 7-14. Nevertheless, Hoyas’ fans could not have been feeling especially confident as the Retrievers outrebounded the Hoyas and could presumably be expected to improve on their 33% shooting from 3.

Fortunately, the Hoyas played their best second half since the Green Bay game. Akok started the Hoyas smartly via a putback layup, which was followed by an acrobatic Wahab move. The defense looked much improved, with the players amping up the ball pressure. A Spears layup culminated a 7-0 run, causing UMBC to call a timeout. The timeout did not help matters as the Hoyas’ lead grew to 14 after a Spears 3 and a nice dish from Mozone to Wahab for a dunk. UMBC started the second half 0-12 and did not score for its seven minutes.

UMBC’s first points of the half came after Bristol again fouled Picarelli on a 3. The Retrievers then switched to zone, hoping to quell the Hoyas’ paint attacks. A Devan Sapp cut the Hoyas’ margin to 11 with twelve minutes left and ultimately led to a 7-0 run before Heath answered with another 3, and Spears dropped off a nice pass to Mozone for an easy layup. The Hoyas lead grew to 16 points after Akok hit a 3, and Hoyas’ fans likely expected a relaxing end to the game.

Alas, UMBC would not go quietly, cutting the lead to 11 points with 3 minutes left as the Hoya offense stagnated. Hoyas’ fans maty have been experiencing déjà vu of second-half collapses past as two Picarelli threes sliced the lead to five with a minute left. But Heath settled matters by hitting two free throws and an uncontested Bristol dunk sealed the win for good.

Although expectations for this Hoyas team likely remain low, fans can take some heart from the second-half effort against UMBC. Heath (25 points and 5/6 from 3) showed what he is capable of when his teammates look for him while Spears shot the ball well throughout and demonstrated improved playmaking (6 assists compared to 0 turnovers). Akok continues to terrorize opposing offenses with 3 blocks, and Mozone (8 points, 6 rebounds) chipped in with valuable minutes off the bench.

However, on a night when Heath and Spears shot the lights out, and UMBC struggled from outside, fans might be forgiven for expecting a proper blowout. Instead, the Hoyas started and ended the afternoon with offensive futility and received little from their bench. Ewing’s unpredictable rotations seemed to have shaken the confidence of Denver Anglin and Jordan Riley, and Ryan Mutombo was a DNP. With far better competition ahead, one wonders if Coach Ewing intends to stick to the same recipe that worked against a plucky UMBC team.

The biggest challenge of the Hoyas’ nonconference slate looms as the Hoyas travel to Lubbock to face Texas Tech on Wednesday. Until then, Hoya Saxa.