by Jonny Gaunt
Quickly running out of opportunities to win games in another difficult season, the Georgetown Hoyas came into Sunday’s contest looking for their first road victory in two years.
Coming into the game, the Hoyas were in the Big East basement with a 1-15 conference record. The two main issues surrounding Patrick Ewing’s team had been protecting the ball and crashing the glass. At 12.4 turnovers per game and ranking 242th for rebounding margin in the country, there were significant concerns entering historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. However, with Butler’s big man Manny Bates out for the game and their own Qudus Wahab returning to the lineup after missing time, Georgetown had an opportunity.
The immediate emotion of Hoya fans had to be fear as the Bulldogs pulled out to an early lead, in part due to poor shot selections that have plagued the team all season. Butler’s leading scorer Jayden Taylor got out to a quick start, eventually ending the half with a game high 17 points on 6-8 shooting. The script flipped when Wahab entered the game. Bringing energy and size in the paint, the Georgetown center quickly helped shut off the offensive value for Butler. From that point forward, the game was on. The Bulldogs led for nearly the entire half, but the Hoyas remained within striking distance the entire way.
Upon entering the second half, the energy and focus of the crowd rose as they sensed their home squad was in for a battle. Jayden Taylor's open looks evaporated as the the Georgetown defense strengthened their grip on the game. In critical moments when Taylor needed a running mate to make a shot to loosen up the defense, there was none to be found. Shooting under 38% from the field in the 2nd half as a team, only Ali with 9 second half points was able to generate offense for the Bulldogs.
The Hoyas seized their opportunity with both hands. Turning one of their struggles into a strength, the paint was owned by Georgetown. Lead by Wahab and Mozone, the team out-rebounded Butler 45-29. On offense, their guards lacked potency from the outside, but relentlessly drove the ball into the paint, resulting in 13 second chance points and 22 free throw attempts. Those free throws were critical as the final 6 makes from the stripe iced the game for the Hoyas, winning 68-62 and breaking their 22 road game losing streak. After the game, Coach Ewing was extremely complementary of the player’s heart on defense and effort to crash the glass for rebounds. After many close loses, this tight victory on the road clearly meant a lot to this youthful team.
Big East's Big Four
Going into their match this weekend, neither Butler nor Georgetown were in the Big East race as they both sit in the bottom half of the league’s standings. Both teams are in the midst of major rebuilding jobs for Thad Matta and Patrick Ewing, respectfully. An entertaining game for the neutral fan showcased a promising future for each program moving forward.
The Big East as a whole has been full of entertaining stories, none more so than the four horse race for the title. Marquette is the leader in the clubhouse after their one-point victory against Xavier earlier in the week. The aforementioned Musketeers are currently tied with Providence and Creighton for second place. Critical games left on the Big East regular season schedule include Marquette traveling to Creighton on Feb. 21 and Xavier traveling to Providence on March 1. With each team currently 8-0 at home in conference play, we could very well see a shared Big East crown this season.