If you turned off the television (or Vox’s liveblog) 10 minutes into the Hoyas’ Saturday afternoon matchup against Howard to go back to pretending to study for finals, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a fairly uneventful game. After all, at that point Georgetown was capping off a 17-0 opening run–a lot of bench minutes and a couple garbage time buckets for the Bison, and 3o minute later a 14-point margin of victory doesn’t seem unreasonable.
If you watched the whole game, however, you know that calling that margin of victory misleading was an understatement. The Hoyas nearly gave away that early lead, letting the Bison get within a possession of them as late as the six-minute mark of the second half. What went wrong, and how Georgetown was able to save face:
The (near) collapse
Seventeen to zero. That was the score with just over 10 minutes to go in the first half, and Georgetown looked every bit as dominant as that margin would indicate. The Bison eventually got on the board, but the Hoyas were rolling well enough that redshirt freshman Aaron Bowen, usually the last scholarship player off the bench, checked in with 7:22 to go.
From there, well, it wasn’t good. Thanks to turnovers and some cold hands, the Hoyas let the Bisons keep pace for the rest of the first half and went into the locker room with the lead down to 13. Then things got really bad, with Howard opening the half on a 15-6 run, cutting the lead to just two with 11:40 to go.
“They outplayed us,” head coach John Thompson III said. “I feel like we missed 10 layups. They weren’t your breakaway, wide-open layups–they were contested layups. But we missed during the course of that game–I’m going to guess–10 to 15 layups.”
The Hoyas couldn’t do anything to help themselves. They managed to shoot just 32.7 percent from the field, including 1-of-13 three-pointers. Senior captain Jason Clark was 1-of-10 on the game (he salvaged his performance by going 10-of-10 from the free throw line). Georgetown was even beat on the boards, 38-36, by the shorter Bisons.
“We were worrying about skill versus will,” Howard head coach Kevin Nickelberry said. “They’re a really skilled team. We had to will them to play ugly, to play our style, and we did that in the second half. We took away a lot of their back cuts. Sims and Lubick had to beat us. Every time Lubick touched it we were fouling, because I didn’t feel like he could make enough free throws to beat us.”
The correction (ft. Otto Porter)
Nickelberry’s strategy looked like it would pay off–Lubick missed his first three free throws, just one of many Hoyas who couldn’t connect from the line. Even the sharpshooting Hollis Thompson missed three straight at one point. But the Hoyas eventually regained their composure at the stripe, making 10 of their last 11 freebies, including two big ones by Lubick. (Georgetown ultimately went 29-of-42 on free throws.)
The game didn’t just come down to free throw shooting, however. Nickelberry said the turning point came when the Hoyas broke out a full court press late in the second half, flummoxing a young Howard team. The press forced many of the Bison’s 23 turnovers and stopped them from scoring quickly against an unsettled Hoya halfcourt defense.
“As a young team we had to adjust [to the full court pressure],” Nickelberry said. “By the time we adjusted, it was too late.”
It was Hoya freshman Otto Porter who seemed to single-handedly shift the momentum of the game, however. After Hollis Thompson connected on two free throws with 6:27 to go to extend the Hoyas’ lead to four, Porter finally gave Georgetown some slim breathing room. Porter swiped a Bison pass as they tried to advance the ball upcourt and took it all the way for an uncontested dunk. Howard called timeout, but Georgetown’s full court press forced a five-second violation as they tried to inbound, and the Hoyas outscored the Bison 16-8 the rest of the way.
Porter finished with 13 points to lead the Hoyas. He was 6-of-11 on the day, the only Hoya to hit more than two field goals.
The Hoyas have a week off to take care of finals before taking on another local opponent, American, at the Verizon Center next Saturday.