In a tale of two halves, the Georgetown men’s basketball team escaped an opening-night scare versus Mount St. Mary’s University, eventually pulling away for an 81-68 victory.
The Hoyas (1-0) came back from a 19-point deficit early in the second half and finished the game on a 20-1 run over the last 6:12 as part of a greater 54-19 run to sink the Mountaineers (0-1).
“They woke up; they woke up. I thought that we used our press [well] in the second half,” men’s basketball Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) said in a postgame press conference.
Three Hoyas scored in double figures. Sophomore guard James Akinjo scored 20 points and sophomore guard Mac McClung scored 16 points to pace the backcourt. Senior center Omer Yurtseven finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds on just nine shots in his first game for the Hoyas after sitting all of 2018-19 due to NCAA transfer rules after playing his freshman and sophomore seasons at North Carolina State University.
“It felt amazing, to be honest. I mean, we came back from 19. I think that’s a good signal for the team,” Yurtseven said.
In the first half, Georgetown shot 30% from the floor and missed nine of its 10 three-point attempts. Going into the break, the Hoyas trailed the Mountaineers 37-25.
“While we practice with each other every day, you can’t simulate a game. A scrimmage — none of that can simulate the intensity of a game,” Akinjo said. “So, I think a little bit of it is coming out and trying to figure everything out.”
The game got significantly worse before it got better. Mount St. Mary’s started the second half on a 9-2 run to take a 46-27 lead with 17:26 remaining. Ewing called a timeout, hoping his team could regroup, and instructed his team to start applying a press defense.
“In the second half, we woke up, as coach said, and with the press we shifted, and it got us aggressive,” Yurtseven said. “And once we were aggressive, we crash, we run, and it helped us big time.”
Georgetown immediately went on an 8-0 run, capped by a second-chance layup by junior forward Jamorko Pickett. Mount St. Mary’s then responded with a three-pointer to retake a 14-point lead.
Georgetown was sparked at that point in the half by last year’s Big East freshman of the year — Akinjo — to get the game back within striking distance. Akinjo scored 11 of the Hoyas’ next 14 points to cut the deficit to seven points with 12 minutes remaining. For the game, Akinjo scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half.
“I told [Akinjo] today, I thought that this was one of his best games since he’s been here,” Ewing said. “Not only scoring but also facilitating, stepping up making shots, playing great defense — he played an all-around great game.”
The Hoyas came all the way back to tie the game at 56-56 with 10:15 remaining after a three-point bucket from junior forward Galen Alexander. However, the Mountaineers recaptured the lead and held it for the next five minutes.
With 5:01 left, Yurtseven slammed down a dunk and gave Georgetown its first lead since the opening minutes, bringing the Capital One Arena to its feet. From here, the Blue and Gray took advantage of a 16-0 run and continued extending its lead until the final buzzer.
In the second half, the Hoyas shot 66% from the floor and made seven of their 11 three-point attempts. For the game, Georgetown outrebounded Mount St. Mary’s 40-26 on the back of strong performances on the glass from Yurtseven and Pickett.
Akinjo felt the team never let down, believing it had a chance to turn the game at any point.
“We know how talented we are as a team, so when we were down 19, we not once got down on ourselves,” Akinjo said. “Everyone was in the locker room picking each other up, we knew we just had to step it up on the defensive end.”
Despite the second-half surge, Ewing knows the team has work to do going forward.
“Last year we could score with anybody, but our defense was our Achilles heel. We talked about picking it up, and it starts with individual defense and then our team defense.” Ewing said. “Tonight, in the first half, it was nonexistent. We need to continue to work on it.”
Georgetown will have a chance to show its progress soon, as it hosts Central Arkansas University (0-1) at noon Saturday, Nov. 9. The game will be televised on MASN2 and can be heard locally on The Team 980 on 95.9 FM.