The Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team (7-11, 5-8 Big East) lost a rock fight to the Connecticut Huskies (11-6, 8-6 Big East) on Tuesday night at McDonough Arena by the final score of 70-57. Connecticut’s defensive intensity early and success on the offensive boards throughout allowed them to impose their will on the Hoyas. For the visitors, sophomore guard James Bouknight finished with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, while redshirt junior guard R.J. Cole added 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists. For the Hoyas, sophomore center Qudus Wahab achieved a career-high in points, with 18 to go along with 10 rebounds, while senior forward Jamorko Pickett and freshman guard Dante Harris both added 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
“They did a very good job of getting up into us. They took away [senior guard] Jahvon [Blair], but we just didn’t execute,” said Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing. “We were right there in the first half: we weren’t scoring, they weren’t scoring. Then we just took our foot off the gas pedal, especially defensively.”
Georgetown had an awful start to the game, with three quick turnovers contributing to early transition opportunities for Connecticut. They went to freshman center Adama Sanogo early, working on Wahab in the post and showcasing several impressive moves for two early buckets. Bouknight added a floater and a dunk in transition as Connecticut raced out to a 5-5 start from the field. Meanwhile, their individual defense swarmed the Hoyas, who could not get quality looks from outside or find Wahab in the post. However, the Huskies granted the Hoyas a stay of execution, as they started to cool from the field and commit unforced turnovers that led to fast break points for the Hoyas, courtesy of a couple three-pointers from Blair and graduate guard Donald Carey. With 10:30 remaining in the first half, Sanogo accidentally elbowed Carey as he was coming down with a rebound, and Carey had to exit the game. It cost the Hoyas another transition opportunity, and the Huskies started to reassert themselves with a balanced offensive attack, increasing their lead to 22-14 by the under-8 timeout.
The Hoyas started to make cleaner passes and force the issue with Connecticut by getting to the free throw line, which kept them in the game after a putrid 6-25 start from the field. Graduate forward Chudier Bile and Wahab did a particularly good job at drawing fouls, and the Hoyas took the lead off a pair of Wahab free throws. Senior forwards Isaiah Whaley and Josh Carlton found themselves in early foul trouble, but they started to cause havoc by doubling Wahab and forcing him into four first half turnovers. Cole found Bouknight for a thunderous alley-oop near the end of the half, but freshman forward Jamari Sibley pump faked to get his defender in the air and calmly drained a three to give Georgetown the lead at the break, 26-25. The Hoyas certainly did a better job getting to the line, but the Huskies dominated the boards and outscored Georgetown in the paint 22-6.
“He needs to know when they’re doubling him, he had five turnovers tonight,” said Ewing of Wahab. “There were times where he needed to go up with the shot and he put it on the floor, and they took it from him.”
Both teams looked to their upperclassmen to start the second half, with Cole getting the first basket off a screen from Sanogo and Pickett hitting a tough pullup from the elbow. They went back and forth with makes, largely getting inside and making tough shots reminiscent of the old Big East. Pickett did a nice job establishing position and driving to the basket as he began to heat up. Harris also started to pick up the Hoyas, being more assertive in taking a corner three and driving for a nice reverse layup. Bouknight got more aggressive with impressive drives to the basket of his own, and the two were going at it in a remarkably close game. The low-scoring rock fight was played at Connecticut’s ideal pace, and they led 49-44 midway through the second half.
“We were right there and we exhaled, and they took it into the next gear,” said Ewing. “They were a lot more hungry for it than we were.”
The Cole-to-Bouknight connection continued to click, as they utilized a back pick to generate another alley-oop on the same set play. They were able to execute their set plays while the Hoyas went back to their old struggles finding clean looks in the halfcourt. The Huskies went back to the well, with Cole getting in his bag on several floaters as part of a 17-4 run that gave them control of the game. As expected, the Connecticut backcourt shined when it mattered most in the second half, recognizing that their outside shot wasn’t falling and taking the opportunity to slash and burn the Hoya defenders, leading their team to victory by the final score of 70-57.
“When you see your teammate dive on the floor, that just tells you we’re here to play,” said Cole of the team’s effort in collecting loose balls. “We surely did it in this game and we’ve got to continue doing those things moving forward.”
The most troubling development from the game was that the Huskies imposed their will on the Hoyas, beating them at their own game. Although they turned the ball over more than they would’ve liked (14 TO), they generally limited the Hoyas opportunities in transition by hounding the offensive glass to make up for their poor shooting. Per KenPom, the Hoyas have an offensive rebounding rate of 32.0% on the season, but tonight it was a mere 13.2%. It seemed that the Huskies collected every loose ball, but they also gathered tough offensive rebounds to the tune of an 18-9 advantage in that category. They dominated the paint, with Bouknight and Cole leading the way to a 50-24 advantage.
“We let them kick our butts on the glass,” said Ewing. “They outrebounded us by 16 rebounds, and we told them before the game that they’re an okay three-point shooting team, but we have to keep the ball out of the paint. We gave them 50 paint points, and that’s not good if we’re trying to win.”
The men will need to rebound both literally and figuratively as they hit the road to face off against the DePaul Blue Demons (4-10, 2-10 Big East) on Saturday, February 27. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1. For continued coverage of men’s basketball and all Georgetown sports, follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter.