Coming off its biggest win of the season against No. 22 Texas, the Georgetown men’s basketball team headed into the 2K Empire Classic Championship on Nov. 22 searching for an upset victory over the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils but ultimately fell by a score of 73-81.
The Hoyas (4-2) opened the game with a promising lead and played tough to remain even with the Blue Devils (6-0) throughout the game, bringing the score to within four with less than a minute on the clock. Georgetown’s comeback, however, would prove too little, too late as Duke secured an 81-73 victory.
Georgetown got off to a fast start in the game, leading 9-2 out of the gate after seven combined points from sophomore guards Mac McClung and James Akinjo. Duke rallied to cut the deficit to one, bringing the score to 12-11 with 13:13 to play in the half.
The Hoyas answered the Blue Devils with a 10-1 run in the following four minutes. In transition, senior guard Jagan Mosely found junior forward Galen Alexander for a layup to give the Hoyas a 22-12 lead with 9:09 left in the first half to force a Duke timeout.
After the timeout, Duke center Vernon Carey Jr. scored back-to-back baskets for the Blue Devils while Georgetown senior center Omer Yurtseven sat due to foul trouble. Yurtseven remained on the bench for the last 13 minutes of the first half after earning two early fouls.
Georgetown responded to Duke with a three-pointer by Alexander to extend the Hoyas’ lead to 11 points, its largest of the game, with 6:07 left before halftime.
The top-ranked Duke squad, playing its third game at Madison Square Garden in its six games this season, felt comfortable despite its slow start. The Blue Devils ended the half on a fast 15-4 run, taking a two-point lead after another Carey layup with 1:37 remaining. In the final seconds of the half, Akinjo converted a tough driving layup to send the teams to the locker room tied at 33.
Duke came out of the break hot, scoring six straight points to grab hold of the game. Akinjo countered the momentum with a three-pointer, but the Blue Devils’ star-studded freshman class caught fire. Along with Carey, Duke forward Wendell Moore Jr. and guard Cassius Stanley scored 10 of the squad’s next 12 points, giving the team a 51-40 lead with 16:10 left to play. On the day, Carey, Moore and Stanley combined for 58 points on 21-of-35 shooting from the floor.
With 9:31 left in the game and Duke leading 60-53, McClung stole an inbounds pass and made a layup through contact to bring the Blue and Gray within five. However, the referees charged Akinjo with a controversial foul on the play and invalidated the bucket. Georgetown Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85), upset with the foul calls against his team, received a technical foul after stepping away from the bench to voice his frustration to the referees.
Overall, the Hoyas recorded 30 fouls to the Blue Devils’ 21 on the day.
The Blue Devils went to the line for four free throws, converting on three of them. After the foul, the Hoyas found themselves down by a 10-point deficit.
Duke extended its lead to as many as 14 points with five minutes remaining, taking a 77-63 lead. Georgetown, however, showed resilience, not allowing a field goal in the final 4:59 and going on a 10-0 run behind six points from Yurtseven. This run cut the deficit to four points, bringing the Hoyas within striking distance with 42 seconds to go.
Unfortunately, the Hoyas’ comeback would fall short, as they could not make a bucket and let Duke close out the game with four free throws.
Georgetown entered the game as an underdog, stacked against an elite team as well as the referees, as its 30 total fouls were by far its most this season. Aside from controversial foul calls, however, the Hoyas also struggled by turning the ball over 24 times and conceding 16 points on these turnovers.
Despite the loss, the team fought hard versus the top-ranked Duke squad, forcing 21 turnovers and shooting 51% from the floor. Yurtseven finished tied for the game-high 21 points, scoring all 21 in the second half. After the game, Ewing expressed optimism about his team’s performance against the top-ranked Blue Devils as he looks to harness the momentum going forward.
“The whole trip is something we can build on. Everyone that we have on our team is capable of playing and playing well. We went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country and had our opportunities to win the ball game,” Ewing said. “We beat the No. 22-ranked team yesterday. There are a whole lot of things to build on, and I think that our future is bright.”
Georgetown will look to build off the momentum from the in-season tournament and return to winning ways as it travels home for a Thanksgiving break. The Hoyas have a full week to rest before they host UNC Greensboro (5-2) on Saturday, Nov. 30.
Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. The game will be televised on FS2 and can be heard locally on WOL 1450 AM radio.