Although Georgetown’s shots stopped falling in the end, its defense proved to be just enough.
The fifth-seeded Hoyas (23-8) failed to make a single field goal in the final six minutes of their first-round NCAA tournament matchup against the No. 12 seed Fresno State Bulldogs (28-6) but withstood a furious rally from their mid-major opponents to claim a 61-56 victory in Chapel Hill, N.C.
With the win, the Blue and Gray advanced to the second round of the tournament for the third consecutive year. Georgetown advanced to last season’s Sweet 16, where they dropped a heartbreaker to top-ranked Connecticut. The Hoyas take on fourth-seeded Georgia Tech (24-8) in the second round tonight.
The Blue and Gray began with a 12-3 lead in the opening five minutes of play and never trailed in the contest, stretching their advantage to 10 points at the half. Georgetown claimed its largest lead — 17 points — when senior point guard Rubylee Wright converted a three-pointer for a 46-29 lead with 15:48 remaining in the game.
But with Western Athletic Conference player of the year Ki-Ki Moore leading the way, the Bulldogs fought back hard. The sophomore guard finished with 22 points, including a layup with 4:56 remaining that cut Georgetown’s lead to just three points. This would be the final field goal from either team, however, as each side traded free throws down the stretch.
Star junior guard Sugar Rodgers missed from the stripe on consecutive Georgetown possessions, giving Fresno State the ball with 28 seconds remaining and the Bulldogs trailing by three. Georgetown forced its 19th turnover on the ensuing play, though, and senior guard Morgan Williams’ free throw made it a two-possession game with 17 seconds left.
“We struggled a little bit, but at the end we were able to just finish it off,” said senior forward Tia Magee, who led the Hoyas with 17 points.
The Blue and Gray’s pressure defense held the Bulldogs, a sharp-shooting perimeter team, to just 7-of-29 shooting from behind the arc. Meanwhile, the Hoyas were more judicious in their shot selection, using their size to their advantage and converting five of only 10 attempts from three-point range.
“We either want to force teams to turn the ball over, or we want to force teams to play quicker than they probably really want to play,” Georgetown Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “We knew Fresno State was going to shoot the three. That’s not any secret. The fact that they took only 29 was actually good, because I told my team they would take 40.”
The underdogs were held to a season-low point total, but made just enough of their opportunities to put the result in doubt until the waning seconds. The Bulldogs also won the battle of the boards, 34-31, but could not overcome the costly turnovers they had given up at crucial junctures of the game — including three in the final two minutes of play. The Hoyas had 11 steals, but also committed 14 turnovers of their own.
Magee’s game-high scoring effort was supplemented by 11 points apiece from Rodgers and senior forward Adria Crawford.
Georgetown is set to tip-off at 7:15 p.m. tonight against Georgia Tech, again in Chapel Hill. The Hoyas defeated the Yellowjackets, 67-58, in November 2010, but six of the Yellowjackets’ eight losses this season have been against teams in the top 10.