The Georgetown men’s basketball team came up short against the visiting Harvard Crimson 71-68 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on March 20, concluding a rollercoaster season that was highlighted by the development of young stars.
Senior center Jessie Govan shined in his final game for the Blue and Gray (19-14, 9-9 Big East) in front of a sellout crowd at McDonough Arena, scoring 25 points with 18 coming in the second half. Freshmen guards James Akinjo and Mac McClung also ended their season with stellar performances as both finished in double figures.
Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) attributed the loss to getting outworked late in the game.
“They wanted it more than we did,” Ewing said. “I’ve seen big people and small people, you just have to go get it, and that’s where we struggled at the end of the game.”
Harvard (19-11, 10-4 Ivy League) opened the game with impressive shooting led by sophomore guard Bryce Aiken, who had a team-high 18 points on the night. Harvard made its first five shots of the game, but McClung responded with a steal and a layup on the other end to bring the Hoyas back to within three points, trailing 15-12. Akinjo and senior center Trey Mourning continued Georgetown’s momentum with back-to-back jumpers to tie the game at 16.
With eight lead changes in the first half, the Hoyas and the Crimson continued to trade buckets at both ends. After Harvard dropped a deep three from the right wing, Akinjo responded with a steal on the defensive end, leading to sophomore forward Jamorko Pickett’s commanding dunk to put the Hoyas up three. Akinjo continued his impressive play with another three-pointer on the next possession to give the Hoyas a 30-26 advantage, their largest lead of the first half. Harvard once again responded with four unanswered points, but Akinjo ended the half with a rising jumper over Aiken to give Georgetown a 36-35 lead at the end of the first frame.
The Hoyas shot 45.5 percent in the first half but struggled from the three-point line, making only one of their eight attempted shots. Similarly, Harvard shot 46.2 percent from the field but also struggled from beyond the arc, shooting just 10 percent.
Govan found his groove at the start of the second frame, draining three straight three-pointers on consecutive possessions to counter Harvard’s hot shooting. Govan and Harvard exchanged three-pointers on both ends to tie the game for the seventh time. The Hoyas finally found some breathing room as McClung found the bottom of the basket on a tough drive, putting his team up 48-45. The three first-year Hoyas continued Georgetown’s hot shooting as they each contributed baskets to give the Blue and Gray a 6-0 run.
With under 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Crimson would not go away as Aiken led them on an 8-0 run, taking advantage of Georgetown’s six-minute scoring drought, ended by a pair of free throws from senior guard Greg Malinowski. The Hoyas then trailed Harvard 61-60 with four minutes remaining.
Georgetown regained the lead as Pickett dished a pass to LeBlanc, who raised the loud McDonough crowd to its feet with a mid-range jump shot. Despite the sellout crowd and rising momentum for Georgetown, Harvard remained poised and drew critical fouls to hold its lead at three points. With 14 seconds remaining in the game, Govan was unable to score his three-point attempt. Malinowski grabbed an offensive board, but also came up just short as the buzzer rang. Harvard ended the contest on an 8-3 run to secure a first-round victory in the NIT, ending Georgetown’s season.
Although disappointed in the loss, McClung turned his attention to next year and the coming offseason.
“I’m going to work on becoming a leader and work out with elite trainers,” he said. “I’m going to make a difference next year.”
Georgetown concluded their season with a 19-14 record, a four-win improvement in Ewing’s second season. The game marked Georgetown’s first postseason appearance in four seasons in a year where the Hoyas were also just short of making the NCAA tournament.
“I believe that we had a very good year,” Ewing said. “We want to make the NCAA next year. Right now it hurts. It was a tough loss. Now is the time to recruit and get ready for next year.”
The team had many honors as Govan earned all-Big East first team honors, and the three freshmen starters McClung, Akinjo and guard Josh LeBlanc were all named to the Big East all-Freshman Team. Akinjo was also awarded Big East Freshman of the Year.
The future is bright for the Hoyas as they are returning four of their starters, welcoming top 100 recruits and hoping to earn a bid in the NCAA tournament next year. The Hilltop says goodbye to four of its seniors, guard Kaleb Johnson, Malinowski, Mourning and Govan. Govan gave some parting words to his successors on the hardwood for next season.
“Stay together and enjoy every single moment of it,” Govan said.