The Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team (9-11, 7-8 Big East) saw their seniors shine as they held off tournament hopeful Xavier (13-6, 6-6 Big East) 72-66 on Tuesday night. In any other season, the night would have been a raucous celebration of two seniors, guard Jahvon Blair and forward Jamorko Pickett, in front of a packed Capital One Arena. Instead, Georgetown had to send off two of its finest in an empty McDonough. Nonetheless, the pair made the most of their final home game as Hoyas. Pickett led the team with 18 points and pulled down 7 rebounds while Blair, who came off the bench, scored 12. Graduate forward Chudier Bile had his 9th career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He also added 3 huge blocks. For Xavier, sophomore forward Zach Freemantle had a double-double of his own with 12 points to go along with 12 rebounds.
Although there wasn’t a crowd, Pickett said the game meant a lot to him: “It was a lot of mixed emotions today knowing this was my last game here at Georgetown. Winning today means a lot.”
Neither Georgetown nor Xavier started the game like teams coming off of big weekend wins, as both sides amassed 5 turnovers before either scored. Pickett eventually broke the slide, hitting a pullup three to start off his senior night well. Soon after, graduate guard Donald Carey hit another to give the Hoyas a 6-5 lead heading into the under 16 timeout.
The Hoyas’ much-improved interior defense flexed their muscles early against Freemantle and senior forward Jason Carter. Pickett and sophomore center Qudus Wahab helped cause a nearly 4-minute scoring drought as the Musketeers missed 5 straight field goals. Freshman guard Dante Harris and sophomore center Timothy Ighoefe punished this inadequate offensive performance from Xavier with a three and a big tip in to give the Hoyas a 13-9 lead.
Ewing praised his defense postgame saying “we work on our defense every practice. It’s been clicking for us of late. It has to continue if we want to do damage in the Big East tournament.”
Soon after Ighoefe’s bucket, Wahab came alive on the offensive end as well. He made use of his nearly 6-inch height advantage on the Xavier frontline and finished off layups on back-to-back possessions. Georgetown was able to make up for their usual turnover problems by pulling down 6 offensive rebounds within the first 10 minutes of the game. This interior superiority gave the Hoyas a 17-14 lead.
Blair then began to make his mark. He and Bile began a 7-0 run that was capped off by a tough floater from the senior guard. The momentum shift forced Xavier coach Travis Steele into a timeout as the lead ballooned to 10. Ighoefe then got in on the act again by grabbing 2 offensive boards and knocking down two free throws over the course of one possession. Blair then capped off this 13-2 run with another runner to give the Hoyas a 30-16 lead with the half insight.
Xavier put on the press for the final two minutes before the break, but Georgetown looked far more mature and calm than in previous games. Instead of falling victim to turnovers as they have often done to squander big leads against premier opponents,) Blair and Harris coolly led the team into the half with a 15 point lead at 38-23.
Crucially, Xavier’s two All-Big East candidates, Freemantle and senior guard Paul Scruggs, were held to only 7 points on 2/13 shooting in the first. The latter had 3 early fouls, which held him out for the final 4 minutes of the half. Much of the credit for that showing belongs to the defensive energy of Pickett, Wahab, and Carey.
Similar to the first half, neither team came out ready to play in the second. It wasn’t until Wahab finished off a layup inside that the scoring droughts were broken around the 17:50 mark. Transfer sophomore guard Adam Kunkel matched this bucket with a steal and score to keep the game at a 15 point margin. Kunkel was certainly the Musketeers’ bright spot for much of the night, consistently giving them the energy on both ends to stay in the game.
Ewing responded to Georgetown’s sloppy play by quickly going to Blair off the bench. He was crucial in calming down a backcourt that had committed 3 turnovers in as many minutes. He steadied the ship and regained the unit’s composure, something he had to do many times over the course of the night. This offensive consistency allowed for Bile to get going from the perimeter. The forward, who has been crucial to the Hoyas recent upturn in form, hit back-to-back threes to extend the lead to 53-36.
However, just when the game seemed out of sight, the run Xavier kept pushing for finally materialized. Coming out of the under 8 timeout, the Musketeers hit the Hoyas with a 7-0 run in just over 1 minute. Sophomore guard KyKy Tandy led the way with two massive shots on the move. This cut the deficit to single digits for the first time since the first half and forced Ewing into calling a timeout.
However, Georgetown’s senior leader Blair again stepped up. He went to the rim twice and drew back-to-back fouls on Scruggs to foul Xavier’s leader out. Still, Xavier proved unwilling to back down. Fremantle hit a clutch three and Tandy got to the rim to make it only a 4 point game. Bile answered again for the Hoyas with his fourth three in the half and snapped a streak of 8 straight missed field goals for the home team. This set up a 7 point game at 66-59 with just over 3 minutes to play.
The problems of old began to resurface for Georgetown down the stretch. Blair stepped out of bounds on an entry pass after Xavier had cut the lead to 5. Tandy followed this with another jumper to make it a 3 point game. Pickett then had a big finish inside, drawing a foul, but Xavier again answered with just over 1 minute left. At this point, Georgetown fans couldn’t be faulted for fearing the worst based on similar collapses prior to the COVID break.
Ewing said of these struggles, “We made too many mistakes and mental errors. We had the game in hand and we just let them come back.”
However, this is where the maturity and growth of Ewing’s team showed. Pickett and Bile each made big free throws and Xavier couldn’t finish inside as Bile blocked a shot and disturbed another. The Hoyas played it out and finished the huge win by a score of 72-66.
The win is Georgetown’s fourth in five games and emphasizes just how good the Hoyas have been since coming back from their COVID pause. As a team predicted to finish at the bottom of the Big East, they will head into Saturday’s season finale with a real chance at having a bye in the Big East tournament. The defense is certainly to credit for that.
What’s most satisfying about the win however is that it came on the senior night of two loyal and dedicated Hoyas: Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. They’ve endured trials at Georgetown and have both become bright spots over their four years. Ewing praised his seniors saying “[Jamorko] and Jahvon have been through the fire. They’ve grown a lot and still have a lot more growing to do.”
Georgetown will look to finish off their regular season strong with a visit to UConn (12-6, 9-6 Big East) on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on CBS. For continued coverage of men’s basketball and all Georgetown sports, follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter.