The Georgetown men’s basketball team fell in the 2K Empire Classic Final at Madison Square Garden to No. 1 Duke 81-73 on Friday night. After leading for much of the first half, the Hoyas were overwhelmed by a prolonged Blue Devils comeback as they committed a backbreaking 31 fouls, 24 turnovers, and conceded 19 offensive rebounds. Senior center Omer Yurtseven had 21 points in just 23:22 of action, while sophomore guard James Akinjo added 19 and six assists.
“Tonight was a tough go,” Head Coach Patrick Ewing said postgame. “Duke is a great team. Overall, in New York, I thought [Georgetown] played with energy, effort, and purpose.”
If the Hoyas (4-2, Big East) were fazed by the stage they found themselves on Friday night, they didn’t show it in the early goings. Akinjo got a floater to go on GU’s first possession, and found his way among the tall trees for another bucket their next time down. Junior forward Jamorko Pickett and sophomore guard Mac McClung, Georgetown’s leading scorers in last night’s victory over No. 22 Texas, each got a shooter’s bounce as the team went into the under-16 timeout with a 12-5 lead. Worryingly, though, Yurtseven was sent to the bench early for the second straight night after he again picked up two quick fouls.
Two second-chance buckets from Duke’s (6-0, ACC) star freshman bigs Vernon Carey and Wendell Moore forced a timeout from Ewing, but a GU lineup consisting of a heavy dose of backups actually stretched the lead. The points came from freshman center Qudus Wahab and junior forward Galen Alexander, but most impressively, the Hoyas continued to limit the Blue Devils on offense – Duke went five minutes without a field goal in the middle of the half.
“I thought [the defense] did a good job,” Ewing said. “The effort wasn’t always as crisp as it needed to be, but I think our defense is getting better every game.”
Unfortunately, the first half became a foul-fest from there, with the two squads racking up 27 combined. Ewing employed lineups that featured sophomore forward Josh LeBlanc and Pickett as the bigs after Yurtseven and Wahab both hit the two-foul mark, and the Hoyas got chewed up inside despite Duke’s continued struggles from the field.
“I’m not going to cry about the whistle,” Ewing said. “When Yurtseven got his second foul, we were still up but everything just went bottoms up. The momentum swung, they started getting most of the calls, and it just changed.”
With Akinjo’s fifth field goal of the night knotting the game at 33, the 13-point underdog Hoyas went into halftime deadlocked, but it’s impossible to not lament what could have been. Georgetown committed 15 fouls in the half and attempted 12 fewer field goals than the Blue Devils. They were tied thanks to their red-hot shooting (57.1% vs. 39.4% by Duke), but Duke pulled down nine offensive boards compared to the Hoyas’ one.
Sophomore point guard Tre Jones had two quick layups to push the Blue Devils out in front as play resumed, and then found Carey with a transition lob to draw another GU timeout. Head Coach Mike Kryzezewski’s team had wrapped a 21-4 run around either side of halftime. Freshman guard Cassius Stanley started 3-for-3 as Duke racked up eighteen points in the first five minutes of the frame.
Ewing inserted junior guard Jahvon Blair and freshman forward Myron Gardner, neither of whom saw action in the win over Texas, but that didn’t solve Georgetown’s defensive problems, as Stanley converted on a wide-open triple. Yurtseven kept the Hoyas within single digits with his scoring from the block, but got hit with his fourth foul at 13:05 as Georgetown verged on letting the game slip away.
“He’s a load in there. There’s not too many people in the country that can guard him,” Ewing remarked of Yurtseven.
When Akinjo was whistled for a phantom foul after it seemed the Hoyas had stolen the ball, Ewing lost his cool and berated the refs, earning a technical foul. Yurtseven was reinserted and continued his domination, but Duke broke the Georgetown press so frequently that the margin didn’t make the Blue Devils sweat. Jones found Stanley, who was inexplicably wide-open in a halfcourt set, in the corner for a dagger triple that made the score 77-63.
“I was just disappointed in the way things were going,” Ewing said of the technical. “I thought that a couple of calls didn’t go our way that should’ve went our way. [On Akinjo’s foul] I don’t even know what was called.”
The Hoyas would cut the deficit to six and eventually four via Yurtseven’s eighth and ninth baskets of the half, but there simply weren’t enough ticks left on the clock for Georgetown to complete its comeback. A quartet of Blue Devils free throws put a bow on the game as it finished 81-73.
Duke’s freshman trio of Stanley, Carey, and Moore finished with 58 points and pulled down ten of the Blue Devils’ 19 offensive rebounds. For the Hoyas, Yurtseven had all 21 of his points after halftime, though McClung and Pickett were nearly silent with six and two, respectively.The Hoyas shot over 50% for the second straight contest but were outrebounded 43-29.
Ultimately, the Blue & Gray showed a great deal of promise against the No. 1 team in the nation, as the group got contributions from a variety of sources and made great strides in improving their on-ball defense, which had been a thorn in Georgetown’s side in the nascent season. There isn’t a single team in the country that can expect to knock off a Coach K team when committing the number of fouls and turnovers GU did, and the Hoyas came about as close as one can get while doing so.
“The whole trip is something we can build on,” Ewing said. “Everyone on our team is capable of playing well. We’re improving every game and every week. We have a lot of talent on our team, but it takes time to gel.”
Georgetown has a long layoff until they take on UNC-Greensboro (4-2, Southern) next Saturday at Capital One Arena. The game is set to tip off at 2 p.m. with a TV broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and a radio broadcast on 1450 AM. Live stats are available at guhoyas.com. Follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter for live coverage and coverage of all sports on the Hilltop.