Escape: Georgetown 52, Rutgers 50

Georgetown overcame its worst shooting stretch of the season Saturday, combining defensive discipline and clutch free-throw shooting to eke out a 52-50 win over Rutgers. The Hoyas trailed for nearly the entire game, leading just three times for a combined one and a half minutes. But it was the last lead, brought about by six straight points by freshman Otto Porter, that gave Georgetown the decisive advantage.

It was tough sledding from the get-go for the Hoyas, who made just one field goal in the first six minutes, and just two in the first ten, all while falling behind 13-7. Rutgers brought defensive identity from the opening tip, denying Georgetown on the perimeter, and fishing out the ball from the post. The Hoyas, unable to find the open looks to which they were accustomed, resorted to out-of-rhythm hoists that inevitably bricked. Things didn’t get much better as the half wore on, as Porter’s jumper with 9:39 remaining was the Hoyas’ third and last field goal of the half. Still, Georgetown stayed in it, effectively mixing zone and man defenses to stifle the Scarlet Knight offense.  The Hoyas erased a six-point Rutgers lead and even took the lead on two Nate Lubick free throws with 4:25 remaining. 

Foul shots were the theme of the afternoon, as the flip side of the Scarlet Knights’ defensive tenacity was their relentless fouling. The Hoyas were sent to the line for 18 first-half free throws and, in a welcome recovery from their recent woes, made 14. On the day, Georgetown shot 36 free-throws, making 25 (both second this season only to the Hoyas’ 29-of-42 performance against Howard). Unfortunately, Lubick’s makes were Georgetown’s last points of the half, and a two-point Hoya lead became a five-point disadvantage by the half.

While the Hoyas’ offensive struggles continued into the second half, Rutgers never pulled away, building a lead that never stretched past six. Georgetown, for all its shooting woes, actually played a pretty good game otherwise. A Hoya team that has struggled with turnovers recently committed 14 on Saturday–a number that, while not exactly stingy, was good enough against a sticky-fingered Rutgers defense. And Georgetown continued its recent dominance on the boards, nabbing four more offensive rebounds than Rutgers (even though the Scarlet Knights missed four more shots). Finally, the Hoyas played pretty good defense themselves, holding Rutgers under 38 percent from the field, and to a similarly low number from two. As has been the case several times this season, the Hoya freshmen receive much of the credit for the defensive performance, as Porter, Greg Whittington (7 points, 5 rebounds) and Jabril Trawick (2 points, 2 assists) each brought defensive grit, particularly in the second half.

Tough defense and a brief spout of offensive competence finally got the Hoyas back in the game, tying it at 38 midway through the second half. Ties followed at 40 and 42, followed–at last!–by a Hoya lead, 44-42. Opportunity no sooner appeared than it seemed to slip away, thanks to renewed offensive ineptitude. The Hoyas managed just a point for more than four minutes, while Rutgers rebuilt a five-point lead with barely two minutes to play.

But in a game of shifting fortunes, the pendulum swung once more. The Hoyas locked down on defense and found yet another hero in a season full of them. After a Henry Sims free throw (team highs with 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) made the deficit four, Georgetown got three straight stout defensive stops. Each time, the Hoyas gave the ball to Porter. Lubick stole the ball then arced a beautiful full-court pass to a streaking Porter, who laid the ball in to trim the difference to two. After Jason Clark (11 points, 5 rebounds) drew an offensive foul, Porter hit a mid-range jumper to even the game with barely a minute to play. A perfect defensive possession resulted in a desperation Rutgers three, giving the Hoyas the unlikely chance to win, which Porter converted from the line with eight seconds remaining.

This win, like the one over Providence on New Year’s Eve, is sort of a Rorschach test for the fan’s feelings about the Hoyas. The optimist will assert that the Hoyas, in seasons past a strong offensive team that struggled when their shots weren’t falling, have found new ways to win. To be sure, there’s support for this view. As mentioned above, the Hoyas put in a strong performance on defense and on the boards, weaknesses in seasons gone by. And Georgetown has now won three games in which it has failed to score sixty points (Providence and Alabama being the two others), a feat which it accomplished not at all last year and just once the season before.

Of course, there’s ample material for the pessimist as well. The offensive droughts were excruciating, an echo of struggles throughout this season. With Markel Starks (three points) struggling recently, it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that the Hoyas are one scorer short. Saturday, that feeling was more than nagging, as the Hoyas shot just 3 of 24 in the first half and less than 30 percent for the game.

Whose view prevails remains to be seen. But Georgetown finished a three-game stretch against inferior but tricky teams: St. John’s with young offensive promise; DePaul with harried pressure; and Rutgers with sticky, grabbing defense. As they should have, the Hoyas won all three. Those wins look all the more essential when looking at the standings where, behind the hated (and, alas, undefeated) Orange, there’s a logjam of five teams with two losses apiece.

Now, Georgetown enjoys a week before traveling to Pittsburgh.  In the meantime, Hoya Saxa.

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