CINCINNATI — With three of its starters laboring with four fouls, and another already fouled out, Georgetown clawed back from a late-game deficit against Cincinnati on Friday to keep its Big East-best winning streak intact.
With the 62-55 victory, the Hoyas (19-4, 9-3) stand alone atop the conference standings, with Syracuse and Marquette tied for second. Their winning streak reached seven games. And they beat Cincinnati for the first time in their past five meetings, avenging a 72-70 double-overtime, quarterfinal defeat that bounced them from last year’s Big East Tournament.
“It’s a big win,” said junior guard Markel Starks, who led all players with 17 points and sealed the victory for Georgetown by scoring the final five points at the free throw line.
The feel-good ending was hardly a certainly after Georgetown let a 12-point second half lead get erased during a stretch when Cincinnati’s JaQuon Parker could do no wrong.
Urged by Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin to shoot more in the second half, Parker finished with a team-high 15 points. But it wasn’t enough to compensate for Cincinnati’s shaky shooting throughout (31.5 percent), its erratic performance on the free-throw line, where the Bearcats missed 13 of their 30 attempts, or a defensive lapse in the final five minutes, in which Otto Porter Jr. (16 points, seven rebounds) and Starks put the game away.
Georgetown’s defense frustrated Cincinnati’s veteran guards throughout, with Jabril Trawick doing an impressive job against the Big East’s second-leading scorer, Sean Kilpatrick, who hit just three of his 13 field goals and scored 12 points.
“It’s a team effort,” said Coach John Thompson III. “This was a very good win for us at a place we haven’t won in a while.”
It was a grinding first half with little flow, interrupted by frequent fouls—including a flagrant one called on Cincinnati’s Ge’Lawn Guyn, who brought Trawick down under the rim with a thud. Trawick hit one of his two free throws to make it 18-13 as the crowd bellowed at officials.
By then, Georgetown’s Mikael Hopkins and Porter each had two fouls. And at the rate the Hoyas were picking up fouls, only poor free-throw shooting by Cincinnati kept it close .
Cincinnati (19-7, 7-6) attacked the game with a frantic intensity, trying to shake Georgetown’s defenders, while the Hoyas maintained their poise for the most part.
Nate Lubick did terrific job on the defensive boards and hit back-to-back layups that extended Georgetown’s lead to 29-20. But the Hoyas gave away a bit of that margin by rushing shots. Cincinnati’s Parker hit a jumper at the buzzer that sent the Bearcats to the break trailing 31-25.
Cincinnati pulled within four early in the second half and ignited the season-high crowd of 12,842 at Fifth Third Arena. But Porter calmly rebuilt the Hoyas’ margin, hitting a layup and pair of free throws to spur an 8-0 Georgetown run.
The Hoyas led by 12 with 15:38 remaining.
With the fouls mounting on his starters, Thompson switched from man-to-man defense to zone.
That’s when Cincinnati went on 21-7 run. Parker was brilliant in the stretch, scoring 11 consecutive points, including the driving layup that put the Bearcats ahead for the first time since the opening minutes.
The score rocked back and forth, with Starks drilling a three-pointer that reclaimed it for the Hoyas, 54-51, with 5:35 to play.
Hopkins fouled out soon after. And Lubick joined Trawick and Porter with four fouls.
Lubick grabbed a key defensive rebound. And Porter hit two free throws to make it 57-53, then grabbed the defensive rebound at the other end.
“You have to keep your composure because the crowd gets going, and your nerves start to go,” Starks said of his free-throw shooting at the end. “You just have to stay calm. You practice this shot every day.”