Greg Monroe is only a freshman, but he hardly played like one against No. 2 UConn (11-1, 0-1 Big East) Monday night. It certainly didn’t look like the big man’s first Big East game as he amassed 16 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals while outplaying one of the most imposing basketball players in the country.
Big East play started on a high note for the Hoyas with a 74-63 victory over the Huskies. No. 8 Georgetown (10-1, 1-0 BE) never trailed in the game despite the Huskies’ raucous home crowd at the XL Center in Hartford.
The partisan Husky crowd did not make the Hoyas’ first true road test of the year an easy adjustment. Nearly all of the 16,294 in attendance were loudly supporting UConn, but the Hoyas did not appear to be affected.
“[The fans] seemed to want it more than we did,” said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun after the game.
Monroe maintained his poise in his first experience with a hostile Big East crowd, never more so than in the second half when he was subjected to a barrage of jeers as play was suspended for three minutes so he could replace a contact. Shortly after play resumed, Monroe backed down 7’3” Hasheem Thabeet and sunk a difficult hook shot off the glass.
“He rebounded well, he defended well, and especially for his first time playing an away game, in the Big East, he played great to me,” sophomore Chris Wright said of Monroe. “He kept his composure. Greg is very well composed I must say.”
Wright was playing in his first Big East away game himself after missing the conference regular season last year with a foot injury. He was just another Hoya unfazed by the UConn crowd. He continued his early season success with 16 points, two assists, and three steals.
From the opening tip Georgetown was in control of the game, scoring first and jumping out to a 15-1 lead. The Hoyas came out firing from behind the arc, hitting four of five three-point attempts in the first six minutes of play. Meanwhile, Monroe facilitated the offense during the run, demonstrating his passing prowess by dealing out three assists in that same period.
“I was worried because we were making so many shots that they weren’t able to get out in transition,” said head coach John Thompson III. “Sooner or later we’re going to start missing and they’re going to get their transition going, and I was worried that our guys would forget transition defense was key.”
UConn never really got that transition offense going, but they did bounce back from their initial struggles. Senior A.J. Price jumpstarted the UConn attack by hitting two consecutive three-pointers. He led all Huskies with 16 points. Freshman Kemba Walker also provided a spark off the bench, scoring 14 points.
Most notable about the Huskies’ offense was the lack of production by Thabeet. The junior finished the first half with zero points and had only four on the game. He was more productive at the other end of the floor, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking seven shots.
But playing head-to-head for most of the game, it was clear that Monroe outplayed Thabeet on Monday. On offense Monroe worked to neutralize his size disadvantage by pulling Thabeet away from the basket. Playing on the perimeter Monroe was able to better locate his teammates and even showed off his range, hitting two three-point attempts.
“Our post players did a good job of working. It was a group effort,” Thompson said of containing Thabeet. “But it was just one of those days for him.”
Georgetown entered the second half up by nine, but UConn came out of the locker room ready to make a run. Led by senior Jeff Adrien, who at one point scored on three consecutive possessions, the Huskies cut the lead to three with about thirteen minutes to play.
Adrien contributed 15 points and five rebounds for the Huskies.
“That’s something we tried to work on this year, sticking together and knowing that the game is going to have ups and downs,” junior DaJuan Summers said. “UConn’s a great team and we knew they were going to make some runs.”
One reason the Huskies were able to make a run was the absence of Monroe. He picked up his third foul in the first two minutes of the second half and went to the bench. Thompson then spent most of the period taking every opportunity to alternate sophomore Julian Vaughn and Monroe on defense and offense respectively.
“I thought Julian gave us great minutes today,” Thompson said. “He was a terrific presence in there.”
When Monroe could not come back in on offense, the other Hoyas were more than capable of carrying the load. Summers led all scorers with 18 points, and Austin Freeman added 13 points to go along with six rebounds.
But the key to the Hoyas’ 11-point victory was its free throw shooting. In the first half Georgetown missed its only two attempts from the line. In the second half, the Hoyas worked inside and drew plenty of fouls. The Hoyas hit 18 consecutive free throws to finish the game, a final display of poise in a tough road environment.
Georgetown will not be able to dwell on their victory for long. This was just the first contest in what will be an unrelenting Big East campaign.
“The commissioner’s not handing out any trophies after tonight,” Thompson said. “We have a long difficult road ahead of us. It doesn’t get any easier.”
It certainly doesn’t, as the Hoyas must face No. 3 Pittsburgh on Saturday. At least this time Georgetown will be playing in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center, where the Hoyas have won their last 28 games. Tip-off is scheduled for noon and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN.