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Panthers declawed by Hoya comeback
After overcoming a 15-point deficit, the No. 15 Georgetown Hoyas survived a sloppy final minute of play to fend off the then-No. 9 Pitt Panthers 61-58 in front of 13,284 at the MCI Center Sunday afternoon.
“I think we showed a lot of poise, particularly in the first half,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “We were down 15. We were getting shots but the ball wasn’t going in. We could have become a little frazzled. They could have run away with it, but we hung in there.”
The first half was marked by dominant play down low, especially for Pittsburgh’s (17-3, 6-3 BE) seven foot center Aaron Gray, a junior, who ended the period six of 10 from the floor, with 15 points and six rebounds. Along with Georgetown’s (16-4, 7-2 BE) sophomore center Roy Hibbert, Gray scored his team’s first three buckets as the Hoyas had a difficult time slowing down the Emmaus, Pa. native. Pittsburgh’s first points by someone other than Gray came on first-year guard Levance Field’s three-pointer almost seven minutes into the contest.
Starting at the 9:17 point in the first half, Gray keyed a 15-0 Pitt run that saw their lead swell to 33-18 with 3:32 left. During Georgetown’s nearly seven-minute scoreless drought, Gray had six points, three boards and two assists, but more importantly his presence in the paint cooled off Hibbert and forced the Hoyas to settle for outside shots.
“We went through a stretch where we were taking too many threes,” Thompson said. “Just because a shot is open, you shouldn’t always take it. We wanted to start looking for more penetration and that opened things up a little bit.”
After Pitt leader and senior guard Carl Krauser notched his first points with 1:57 to go, the Hoyas closed out the half on a 7-0 run, cutting the halftime deficit to seven and giving the team momentum heading into the second half.
“We just try and keep our heads up, stay positive and keep focused,” sophomore forward Jeff Green said of the Hoyas’ mentality when digging out of their 15-point hole. “If our shots are falling, anything can happen and we can get back into the game quickly. We just have to keep playing focused and keep playing hard.”
Green seemed focused for most of the game, matching a career high with 22 points, making nine of 14 from the floor, and a career-high four of seven behind the arc. In the second half, the Hoyas increased their defensive intensity, switching to a matchup zone and using Green’s quickness to stifle Gray’s effectiveness on both ends of the court. The junior big man was held scoreless in the second half but committed three costly turnovers.
“We were fortunate. We switched things up,” Thompson said. “Our guys did a great job of rotating and helping each other in the second half. Gray wasn’t as aggressive and he didn’t get the same looks.”
Senior guard Brandon Bowman, who was the only other Hoya in double figures with 15 points, was lauded for his defensive effort, which has not always been a strong part of his game.
“The offensive stuff, that’s Brandon,” Thompson said. “But he did a lot of other things he doesn’t always do. He’s starting to appreciate the other parts of the game and that’s a very good thing for him because he’s capable. He can do everything on the basketball court.”
In the second half, where the Hoyas outscored Pittsburgh 33-23, Thompson pulled Green out of the paint and utilized him as a point-forward in the Hoyas’ motion offense. This pulled Gray away from the basket and forced him to guard Green on the perimeter. It ended up sparking the Hoyas’ surge to a 59-49 lead with 38 seconds left in the game.
“It just happened to work out that way,” Green said. “He’s a big seven-foot, 260-pound guy, so I just had to use my quickness against him.”
In those last 38 seconds, however, the Hoyas almost relinquished the lead by not executing well, with a turnover and two missed free throws on the front ends of one-and-ones. The Panthers pulled to within one on a pair of threes and a fastbreak layup, but after a pair of senior Darrel Owens’ free throws, Pitt sophomore guard Ronald Ramon missed a shot from behind the arc as time expired to seal the victory for the Hoyas.
The win caused the Hoyas to jump two spots in the Associated Press Top 25, from No. 17 to No. 15, and caused the Panthers to drop to No. 14. More importantly, it gave the Hoyas sole possession of fourth place in the conference, where they would receive a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament were they to hold on to that spot, and marked the first time the Hoyas have defeated two top-10 teams in the same season since 1995-96.
For his efforts the past week, averaging 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 60.8 percent from the field, Green was named to the Big East’s Weekly Honor Roll. Thompson, however, doesn’t think Green is any more deserving now for such accolades than he was earlier in the season.
“Jeff Green did not struggle earlier. He was not scoring points,” Thompson said.
“People have decided Jeff should score ‘X’ points and when Jeff doesn’t score ‘X’ points it’s ‘Oh, he had a bad game.’
There have been very few games, if any, where I think Jeff has had a bad game. He does a very good job of knowing what to do and how to help us win.”
The Hoyas now look ahead to a 9 p.m. matchup tonight with St. John’s (10-10, 3-6 BE) at the MCI Center. The last time Georgetown played St. John’s they came away from Madison Square Garden with a 79-65 win on Jan. 8. Owens carried the Hoyas with 24 points, including six of eight from long range, however Georgetown knows they won’t be facing the same Red Storm.
“Darryl’s back,” Thompson noted of junior guard and leading scorer Darryl Hill who missed the teams’ first tilt with an injury. “They are a much better team, a team that has given us problems the last couple of years.”