The Georgetown men’s basketball team (18-12, 9-9 Big East) grabbed a crucial victory in their quest to reach the NCAA Tournament Saturday, knocking off No. 16 Marquette (23-8, 12-6 Big East) 86-84 in Milwaukee. With many Hoyas facing foul trouble throughout, head coach Patrick Ewing handed the reins over to the freshman guard duo of James Akinjo and Mac McClung in their first game at the Fiserv Forum. The pair answered the bell, with Akinjo scoring 25 points with five 3-pointers, while McClung added 23, going 11-of-14 from the free throw stripe. Despite junior guard Markus Howard’s 28, the Hoyas held the Golden Eagles guard to an 8-of-25 shooting mark, while redshirt freshman Joey Hauser added 16 points in the loss.
The game began as a microcosm of the contest as a whole: Marquette leaving Howard, the nation’s sixth-leading scorer, to facilitate, while the Hoyas countered with their young guns at the other end. Five minutes into the matchup, Howard already had four points, two turnovers, and an assist. Meanwhile, a freshman either scored or assisted on the Hoyas’ first 18 points. Back-to-back threes from freshman forward Josh LeBlanc and McClung were promptly followed each time by an and-one from Howard and then Houser triple. The first half continued with both teams trading blows and the lead had changed hands a whopping 21 times by halftime.
LeBlanc committed two fouls within 20 seconds of each other before the under-four timeout, while Govan picked up his second a minute later. In their stead, graduate student forward Trey Mourning hit two free throws to put the Hoyas ahead 37-36 at 1:13, but a buzzer-beating three from junior guard/forward Sam Hauser out of a Marquette timeout swung the momentum in favor of the hosts heading into the halftime break. McClung had raced out to 14 total points in the frame, while the high-volume Howard had 11 despite shooting 23.0 percent from the field. The Golden Eagles were chewing up GU underneath, holding a 16-4 advantage in points in the paint while allowing no second chance baskets.
After hitting a jumper to start the second half, LeBlanc picked up his third foul 51 seconds in, while two points apiece from the Hauser brothers and a Howard three quickly pushed the Marquette lead to seven at 17:36. The Hoyas dashed back with a 10-0 run culminated by back-to-back threes from Akinjo and Govan. Now it was the home team’s turn to get hot, however, with two threes from freshman forward Brendan Bailey following a Joey Hauser bomb to replace that original lead and then some, while Govan picked up his third in the process.
Unfazed, Akinjo drilled a three immediately, while putting the clamps on Howard in what was quickly becoming a fascinating one-on-one matchup. The Oakland, CA native found LeBlanc cutting underneath for an and-one, and then used a step-back on Howard to create space for the corner three that tied things up at 63. The veteran Howard was unimpressed, beating Akinjo scoring from the corner a minute later a minute later. Akinjo countered with a cold-blooded triple from standstill. A floater from Akinjo meant he had scored the Hoyas’ last 10, while McClung then hit four free throws after drawing back-to-back fouls on his way to the hoop. Suddenly, the lead was 74-69 to the visitors.
Head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s crew remained focused, drawing a flurry of non-shooting fouls given that they were already in the bonus. Six Golden Eagles free throws later, the game was tied once again. McClung seemed to relish the moment, taking on his man before elevating for a silky fadeaway jumper to quiet the standing sellout crowd. Two free throws from Sam Hauser knotted things again, but then Akinjo found himself all alone for a layup after picking up a loose ball. Mourning’s strip of Howard led to an open look for sophomore guard/forward Jamorko Pickett after quick Hoya ball movement,and he drilled it. A Joey Hauser three brought the Golden Eagles within two, though Govan came up with a crucial offensive rebound and free throw upon his reinsertion to the game. Howard quickly hit a three to bring the game back within one with 3.5 seconds remaining, but Pickett went 1-of-2 at the stripe, giving the Hoyas’ tournament chances new life and prompted a memorable outburst from Wojciechowski.
Akinjo recorded 20 after the break on 4-of-5 from deep, while his dogged defending on Howard gave a team a fighting chance despite being shockingly in points off turnovers, second chance points, bench points, points in the paint, and fast-break points a fighting chance.
The Hoyas return to action on Thursday in the Big East tournament, where they will play either Seton Hall (18-12, 9-9 Big East) or Xavier (17-14, 9-9 Big East). The Hoyas won their home matchups and lost on the road against both team in the regular season. Follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter for coverage of all winter sports at Georgetown.