Coming off of the worst regular season in Georgetown men’s basketball history (6-24, 0-19) and with rumors swirling about the future of head coach Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas went out Wednesday night hoping to recapture some of the magic from last March’s run to a Big East Championship. This year’s path to a season-saving automatic bid started with the no. 6 seed Seton Hall Pirates (20-9, 11-8) winners of five straight and eight out of 10.
Despite the team’s best defensive performance of the season, the Hoyas were unable to overcome Seton Hall’s experience. Although they led for 26 minutes, Georgetown’s season came to an end with a crushing 57-53 loss at Madison Square Garden.
It was a familiar start for the Hoyas, as two quick turnovers led to two lay-ins for the Pirates. This prompted Ewing to call a very early timeout with only two and a half minutes off the clock. However, whatever Ewing said in the huddle resulted in an excellent response. Freshman guard Aminu Mohammed, fresh off of a unanimous selection to the all-freshman team, scored six straight points to put Georgetown in front. Graduate guard Donald Carey then followed up Mohammed’s spurt with a deep bucket to cap off a 13-0 run for the 11-seeded Hoyas. The MSG crowd broke out into thunderous “Let’s Go Hoyas” chants with one fan screaming “something’s brewing in MSG.”
Georgetown’s spirits were quickly dampened, however, as the tournament’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, sophomore guard Dante Harris, went down with an ankle injury. He was helped to the locker room and did not return for the rest of the game. The injury forced freshman Tyler Beard into action and he handled it with unbelievable composure. He scored five points in crucial minutes in the first half.
After Seton Hall responded to cut the lead to five at the 10-minute mark, Mohammed stepped up and hit a three. His first-half performance demonstrated all the tools that make him such an intriguing pro prospect. He defends, drives, and as his perimeter game develops there is no ceiling on where he can go.
The Hoyas kept Seton Hall at bay for much of the rest of the first half due to elite defense from junior Timothy Ighoefe. The center who has had an up and down year was brilliant against the Seton Hall bigs. He had three blocks and eight rebounds in what was undoubtedly his best half in a Georgetown uniform. His excellent performance meant that despite a late 7-0 run from the Pirates spurred on by sophomore guard Kadary Richmond, Georgetown went into the locker room with a shocking 27-24 lead.
The second half picked up right where the first ended, with both teams struggling to get good looks from the field. Mohammed made life immensely difficult for first-team All-Big East forward Jared Rhoden, turning him over on multiple possessions after the break. Beard continued his excellent play for Georgetown as well, hitting a massive three with the shot clock expiring to give the Hoyas a 34-33 lead at the under 16 media timeout. These back and forth play continued as sophomore forward Collin Holloway traded threes with junior forward Tray Jackson to keep Georgetown’s slim advantage.
For a team that has not played in very many low-scoring games, Georgetown handled the pressure admirably. They dug in on the defensive end and used Ighoefe’s size and shot-blocking ability to make it tough for the Pirates to sink buckets. Ighoefe blocked five shots in total and pulled down 13 rebounds at the heart of the defense. This defensive execution led to a nearly 4-minute scoring drought for Seton Hall that was punctuated by a massive Kaiden Rice three. The graduate guard gave Georgetown a 46-42 lead, their largest of the second half.
Despite Georgetown’s strong push, Seton Hall still refused to go away. They fell back into the zone and took away the straight-line drives that Holloway and Mohammed had been able to get through the first 30 minutes. This, accompanied by Ewing’s decision to take out Tyler Beard late in the game, brought Georgetown’s offense to a complete standstill. This was untilHolloway put in a contested shot with under a minute left to give Georgetown a one-point lead.
The Pirates quickly responded. Graduate guard Jamir Harris drilled a deep three for a two-point lead out of a timeout and forced the Hoyas to find the late-game execution that has evaded them all year; they were unable to again tonight. Holloway missed a three and Carey threw a pass away, allowing Seton Hall to go to the foul line to put the game on ice. They did just that, as Jared Rhoden made both free throws to extend the Pirates’ lead to four and Georgetown’s season came to a heartbreaking close with a 57-53 defeat.
With the loss, Georgetown became the first defending Big East champion to lose their first tournament game in over a decade. The defeat was Georgetown’s 21 straight, setting a new school record- and not one to be proud of. The questions about the future of the program will certainly not go away with this result. Ewing knows of the swirling rumors regarding the program and his fate and confidently stated post-game “I know we will be better next year.”
While the results are tough to swallow, this is still a Georgetown team that fought until the very end. Ighoefe, Mohammed, Holloway, Carey, and Beard all made massive plays down the stretch and nearly helped to knock off a red hot Seton Hall team. They showed the defensive grit that had been missing for most of the season and did it with a very young group on the floor.
The future is not as bleak as alarmists would like everyone to believe. Georgetown basketball will certainly rise again. However, until then, let’s appreciate a group of players who, despite one of the toughest seasons in program history, fought for Georgetown until the final seconds. As Ewing said “I’m proud of them. We could have easily let go of the rope but we never did that. I’m proud of the fight.”