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Hoyas All Heart in BIG EAST Debut Loss to Xavier, 102-89

Spears’ Stellar Play (22 points) Not Enough to Overcome Georgetown’s Poor Defense and Free Throw Shooting

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

Your Georgetown Hoyas suffered a massive loss off-the-court today as news broke of Coach Louis Orr’s untimely passing. The team nevertheless had a game to play against the Sean Miller-led Xavier Musketeers. Despite a gutty effort, the Hoyas dropped their Big East opener 102-89 and extended their Big East losing streak to 21 games.

Xavier blitzed the Hoyas early with Zach Freemantle setting up shop in the paint, and Souley Boum and Jack Nunge scoring outside. The Hoyas had few answers to Xavier’s physical man-to-man defense, with Qudus Wahab noticeably struggling to finish at the rim. Xavier led 10-2 at the 3-minute mark before a Patrick Ewing timeout.

The Hoyas righted the ship by turning Xavier over and aggressive play from Primo Spears and Jay Heath. Xavier nevertheless led 15-10 at the first televised timeout. A Spears mid-range jumper brought the Hoyas within 2, but the Hoyas were unable to take advantage of Freemantle’s early foul trouble, and Xavier’s advantage stood at 4 with 12 minutes let in the half.

Coach Ewing then turned to his bench. Wayne Bristol fed Bradley Ezewiro for a loud dunk, and the Hoyas frustrated Xavier by deploying a zone defense. Another Ezewiro dunk would give the Hoyas a brief lead at the 10-minute mark before Colby Jones tied matter up for the Musketeers, keying an 8-0 run. The score was 33-29 with 5 minutes left in the half as the Hoyas were able to keep the game close thanks to multiple Xavier turnovers. The Hoyas could have inched closer in the first half’s closing minutes, but the Hoyas had several lapses of concentration, including an intercepted inbounds pass, and several missed free throws.

Xavier led Georgetown 43-38 at intermission. Wahab and Spears were the Hoyas’ offensive standouts with 11 and 8 points respectively. The Hoyas took excellent care of the basketball with only 2 turnovers but shot only 1 from 7 from 3-point range.

Jay Heath ensured a good start to the second half with 2 quick free throws and a 3-pointer. An Akok Akok 3 would cut the Musketeers’ lead to 1 before Nunge outworked Akok and Heath for a putback and 3-point play. The score stood at 55-48 after an Adam Kunkel 3-pointer and an emphatic Freemantle dunk. Despite energetic play and strong support from the fans in attendance, the Hoyas struggled to make further inroads. Defense at the rim was a particular point of concern, as back-to-back uncontested scores allowed Xavier to edge ahead 72-59 with 12 minutes left in the half.

The Hoyas would not go at all quietly and ripped off a 6-0 run of their own. Xavier responded with deadeye outside shooting, but the Hoyas continued to fight. An unexpected hero during a late run was Wayne Bristol, who scored via a difficult and-1 and a corner 3. Xavier clung to a 4-point lead with less 9 minutes to play.

Alas, the remainder of the game looked much like previous losses. Boum found his outside stroke and the Hoyas handed him open shot after open shot. Coach Ewing tried to steal some rest for a visibly tired Spears, but the Hoyas struggled to create without him. Both teams appeared fatigued, but Xavier was far more efficient on offense. Back-to-back 3s by Kunkel and Boum extended the Musketeers’ margin to 13 points with 4 minutes left. Sean Miller bizarrely handed the Hoyas a late opportunity by earning a technical foul down-the-stretch, but the Hoyas continued to struggle from the free throw line while the Musketeers bombed away confidently from deep. Xavier ultimately cruised to a comfortable 102-89 win.

On a difficult day, there was much to admire about the Hoyas’ performance. The Musketeers are an experienced and talented team that will likely finish near the top of the Big East, and the Hoyas battled them throughout. The Hoyas valued the ball (13 assists compared to 6 turnovers) and flashed a variety of defenses. Spears (22 points) is quickly establishing himself as an offensive juggernaut while Wahab (16 points, 7 rebounds) looked confident against Xavier’s talented frontline.

Nevertheless, the script on the Hoyas has largely been written. They struggle to defend, especially against 3-pointers (Xavier shot an absurd 60%; 53% from 3), and they don’t take or make enough 3s of their own. Coach Ewing is committed to playing the Spears-Murray-Heath triumvirate together as much as possible while other players - who might be able to complement their talents - rarely see the floor. Still, one cannot fault Georgetown’s effort this evening, especially under such challenging circumstances. Up next will be another daunting bout against the Connecticut Huskies on Tuesday in Storrs. Until then – Hoya Saxa.