MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – With junior guard Austin Freeman unable to play due to a stomach virus, No. 19 Georgetown needed a team effort to compensate for the loss of its leading scorer. The loss of the third-year starter proved to be too much as No. 10 West Virginia turned up the defensive pressure, turning 20 turnovers into 24 points and knocking the Hoyas off 81-68.
Freeman made the trip to Morgantown with his team, but his condition forced him to travel back to Washington Monday to undergo tests at Georgetown University Hospital.
“This team has been put together with Austin [Freeman], making him one of the focal points of what we do,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “We went to bed last night thinking he’s doing better, and we anticipated the game plan with him out there, then he took a turn for the worse last night. We just went into the game without time to prepare, because we fully anticipated him being out there.”
The teams played back and forth for the first few minutes of the first half. The Hoyas showed an ability to feed the ball inside to its bigs against the extended Mountaineer defense. After talking things over in the first media timeout, however, West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins lit a fire under his team as it stormed to a 24-8 run over the next 10:14 to turn what was supposed to be a big time matchup into a seemingly one-sided affair
“We played pretty well,” Huggins said. “I thought we had good patience on both ends, and I think it’s really important that you have patience defensively when you play Georgetown.”
The Hoyas, who had 12 turnovers in the first half, struggled to find any rhythm without Freeman fueling the offense. Junior guard Chris Wright had two points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half.
“I think we tried to step up [with Austin out],” sophomore center Greg Monroe, who had 22 points and nine rebounds, said of his and Wright’s play. “But we didn’t try to force anything.”
Sophomore guard Jason Clark struggled in the face of the Mountaineer pressure, finishing with five points and six turnovers, four of which came in the first half.
“I think we needed to a do a better job of taking care of the ball,” Thompson said. “We knew they were going to pressure, and I think they just did a better job of executing.”
Unable to get the ball into sophomore center Greg Monroe in the paint, the Hoyas spent much of the first half searching for shots. The Mountaineers attempted 29 shots to the Hoyas’ 19 in the first half.
“Austin is one of the leaders of this team, so, yes, we missed every part of [him;] not just his presence, but his points and his composure,” Thompson said.
Georgetown shot 47.4 percent from the floor while West Virginia shot 51.7 percent. The Hoyas had 33 rebounds to the Mountaineers’ 31.
Senior guard Da’Sean Butler, playing in his final home game, led the Mountaineers all night with 12 first-half points before finishing the day with 22 on 7-of-16 shooting. Sophomore forward Devin Ebanks added 15 for West Virginia, while sophomore forward Kevin Jones tallied 14.
The Hoyas couldn’t quite get over the turnover bug in the second half, throwing away defensive stops with errant passes or missteps on the offensive end. A 17-point halftime margin quickly became a 27-point deficit.
Seeing extended minutes due to the absence of Freeman, freshman guard Vee Sanford tried to light a spark in the Hoyas early in the second half, draining a three and then following it up with a runner in the lane the next possession. Sanford finished the day with nine points, three rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes.
“With each passing day, with each passing week [Sanford is] getting more comfortable, and I’m getting more comfortable, and his teammates are getting more comfortable with him,” Thompson said. “At some point with freshmen, the light bulbs click.”
After starting the game 1-for-8, Wright sparked the Hoyas in the second half, going for 19 of his 21 points in the final 20 minutes. He also added seven of the Hoyas’ 17 assists, while amassing just two turnovers. A mixture of jump shooting and dribble drives spurred his effort, which put the Hoyas on a 27-9 run to close the gap to nine points at 62-53 with 5:53 to play.
The savvy Butler never let it get any further than that, scoring the next four points to put the lead back into double figures and taking the air out of the Hoyas’ comeback.
While it was enough to turn a blowout into a respectable game, the Hoyas’ effort was just not enough
to overcome a 27-point second-half deficit without their leading scorer.
The Hoyas have five days before closing out their season on Saturday at home against Cincinnati.
“It’s been a difficult couple of days, but now we have a couple days to plan and prepare,” Thompson said.
Tip-off is set for noon.