The Georgetown University men’s basketball team earned its first win of the season Nov. 25, defeating University of Maryland-Baltimore County 70-62. This was Patrick Ewing’s (CAS ’85) 50th win as the Hoyas’ head coach.
Coach John Thompson Jr.’s legacy loomed large over Wednesday’s matchup, the first since he passed Aug. 30. The game was played on the newly christened John Thompson Jr. Court, and there was a cardboard cutout of Coach Thompson in the McDonough Arena bleachers. Most basketball games are typically played in Capital One Arena, but without fans present in the stands this year, all games will be played in McDonough Arena on campus. Players wore social justice messages on their jerseys, including “Black Lives Matter,” “Equality,” “Justice” and “Stand Up,” causes that Coach Thompson fought for throughout his lifetime. Coach Ewing came out onto the sideline with a white towel slung over his shoulder, honoring the man who was his coach, mentor and friend.
“Coach Thompson is an integral part of my life,” Ewing said during his postgame press conference. “I’ve had the opportunity to play for him, for him to be a mentor, a friend, a confidant, and I had the towel over my shoulder in honor of him. All the things the guys have on their jerseys — they are using their platform to fight for their rights.”
Ewing went with a starting lineup of University of Arkansas graduate transfer guard Jalen Harris, senior guard Jahvon Blair, Siena College graduate transfer guard Donald Carey, senior forward Jamorko Pickett and sophomore center Qudus Wahab. Carey graduated after his sophomore year at Siena, so the COVID-19 pandemic eligibility rule will give him the chance to play three seasons for the Hoyas, more than any other graduate transfer.
Early in the matchup against UMBC (0-1), Georgetown (1-0) fought off some offensive struggles to take a 15-10 lead. Carey stepped up from the beginning, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half, knocking down three three-point shots, diving for loose balls and taking charges.
The Georgetown defense seemed improved from a season ago. The Hoyas showed quick feet on the perimeter, Wahab and sophomore centers Timothy Igoefe and Malcolm Wilson broke last season’s pattern of leaving big men wide open down low with the hedging pick-and-roll defense and Georgetown’s guards group kept UMBC’s dynamic 5’2” scorer Darnell Rogers from getting to the basket.
Still, as the game progressed, a frustrating pattern emerged for the Hoyas. Georgetown got out to big leads on multiple occasions, but saw those leads slip away due to miscommunication in the half-court offense, fouls from their big men and misplaced passes in transition.
UMBC went on a 7-0 run late in the first half, cutting the Georgetown advantage to four points. Wilson, playing in his first collegiate game, responded emphatically with a putback dunk for his first college basket to send Georgetown into halftime with a 36-30 lead.
After the break, the Hoyas regrouped and pushed their advantage up to 18 points at the 12:39 mark by feeding Wahab down low, dishing to Blair and Pickett for open three-pointers and pushing the ball out ahead in transition. Wahab showed off improved footwork from a year ago, maneuvering the offensive paint with ease and getting open layups and dunks for his work.
Again, the Hoya lead slipped away, and UMBC got within six at the end of the game. Georgetown fans will remember the team’s Madison Square Garden collapse against St. John’s in last year’s Big East Tournament when St. John’s used a torrid 23-0 run to end the Hoyas’ season. It would be too little too late this time, however, as Pickett sealed the Georgetown win with two insurance free throws with 0:02 left on the clock.
In the end, all five Hoya starters chipped in. Blair led the way with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists, Wahab added a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, Carey put up 13 points, Pickett had 10 points and eight rebounds and Harris dished out six assists.
Coach Ewing also took the Hoyas’ lead as an opportunity to give his freshmen some on-court action, playing forward Kobe Clark for 12 minutes, guard Dante Harris for seven and forward Collin Holloway for four. Clark led the freshman with 10 rebounds, four on the offensive glass, a steal and an assist, while Holloway added three points and two rebounds. Harris pitched in two points and an assist.
Coach Ewing was impressed with Clark’s performance and told media members after the game it would be hard to keep him off of the floor moving forward.
Still, the Hoyas did not play a disciplined game. They knocked down only 50% of their 14 free throws, and UMBC managed to score 24 points off of the Hoyas’ 20 turnovers. Seniors Blair and Pickett turned the ball over a total of nine times and combined for a tepid 21-37 shooting night.
The team as a whole did not shoot the ball particularly well either, connecting on only 28 of 75 shots for a 37.3% average. They were able to cover for this underwhelming performance by dominating on the offensive glass and scoring a lot of second-chance points, but this safety net will be much harder to come by when the trio of sophomore centers are faced with taller, more skilled Big East big men.
At the end of the day, a win is a win, and the Hoyas are 1-0. They will face Navy on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on CBSSN.