With 10 minutes left to play in the second half, the Georgetown men’s basketball team came from behind to beat the Xavier Musketeers 80-73 in a crucial road contest Jan. 31.
Freshman guard James Akinjo, who was scoreless in the first half, provided the Hoyas (14-7, 4-4 Big East) with a spark in the second half comeback, scoring 23 points to accompany his four assists and five steals in the game.
Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) commented on Akinjo’s huge second half in a postgame interview with GUHoyas.
“I made a conscious effort to try to run some plays for [Akinjo] to get him going,” Ewing said. “We tried to spread the floor a little more so they couldn’t use their size against him, and he was able to knock down his shots, get to the paint, make some plays and also get some and-ones.”
After the opening tipoff, Georgetown struggled to get going. Xavier (11-11, 3-6 Big East) went on a 9-0 run before the Hoyas called timeout. Georgetown missed 11 of its first 13 shots, and Xavier led 16-7 with 11:08 remaining before halftime.
“At that point, we just knew we had to pick it up, as simple as that,” freshman forward Josh LeBlanc said in a postgame interview with GUHoyas.
The Hoyas began to cut into the lead. Govan’s jump shot in the paint brought the team to within five points with 5:20 left in the half. However, Xavier won the rebounding battle, using their second-chance opportunities to extend their lead to 36-28 by the half.
After Georgetown missed its first nine three-pointers, Akinjo made back-to-back threes to cut the deficit to just one point with 12 minutes to play. However, the Musketeers responded to both of Akinjo’s three-point shots and the teams traded threes for seven straight shots, keeping Xavier in front.
With 9:41 left to play and the Hoyas trailing by just one point, senior guard Greg Malinowski secured a tough offensive rebound and passed the ball to LeBlanc, who made a layup underneath the rim to give the Blue and Gray its first lead of the game.
“That was a huge rebound by Greg to get in there and get that ball, and then be smart enough to get it out to the right people,” Ewing said.
Like many Big East matchups from earlier this season, the game came down to the final minutes. In this case, Georgetown held a three-point lead with under two minutes left in the game.
With 1:09 remaining, Akinjo came up with a steal and led Georgetown down the court. After his missed three-point attempt, sophomore forward Jamorko Pickett secured a critical offensive rebound and converted on the second-chance layup to put the Hoyas up 75-70 with 38 seconds remaining.
“That was a huge rebound and put-back, when they were fighting to cut the lead. They cut the lead to three, and we were holding them off,” Ewing said. “That rebound was key.”
Ewing commended his players for their ability to fight down the stretch.
“We were fighting. If you look at any of the games in the Big East, all of them come down to the end. And, we fought, we scratched, we clawed. Everyone that played did an outstanding job,” he said.
Akinjo led four Hoyas in double figures. Freshman guard Mac McClung chipped in 11 points, five assists and four rebounds. Georgetown’s frontcourt tandem of LeBlanc and senior center Jessie Govan made huge contributions: Govan scored 12 points, while LeBlanc added 17. The two also made a combined 10 rebounds.
LeBlanc also hustled for key loose balls and played tight defense.
“[I was] just being the energy guy I am, being all over the place,” LeBlanc said. “I don’t really need plays drawn up for me. I just like giving energy and bringing the extra plays.”
After another Akinjo steal and Georgetown free throws, the Hoyas cruised to the finish line, winning by a score of 80-73. Ewing knew how important this game was to keep the Hoyas within the top of the conference.
“It means a lot. I mean we have to stay in the mix, we’re right there,” Ewing said. “We have to continue to build and continue to believe in ourselves and believe that in the end we’ll be right in the mix with everyone.”
After shooting 41 percent from the floor in the first half, the Hoyas shot 59 percent in the second half and made eight three-pointers. Georgetown was also more disciplined, committing only one turnover in the second half and scoring 20 points off of 14 Xavier turnovers in the game.
After the win, Georgetown improves to an even 4-4 in Big East play and sits alone in third place in the conference standings.