By Tracee Hamilton
Sunday, January 10, 2010; D10
Last season, Georgetown opened its Big East campaign with a 74-63 road win over then-No. 2 Connecticut that gave the Hoyas a 10-1 start. Everything looked rosy -- and then the Hoyas went off the rails, finishing 16-15, 7-11 in the Big East. They won only four of their final 16 games and lost in the first rounds of both the conference tournament and the National Invitation Tournament.
So it might be early to become enraptured with 12th-ranked Georgetown, even after Saturday's breathtaking 72-69 victory over Connecticut at Verizon Center. Then again, any team that can come back to beat the Huskies after playing one of the most unwatchable first halves in recent memory has my attention. So does any team that features Austin Freeman, who scored 28 of his career-high 33 points after halftime.
Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun started his postgame remarks by saying the Hoyas (12-2, 3-1) had done a lot of things right.
"First thing, they had Austin Freeman in uniform," Calhoun cracked. "That helps an awful lot. He is a bona fide, terrific, big-time player who made big-time shots."
In the second half, yes. In the first half, the cold-shooting Hoyas, including Freeman, couldn't make layups, lay-ins or layaways. They missed two- and three-pointers with abandon. They'd have missed four-pointers if Dr. Naismith had thought of 'em.
After taking a 19-18 lead on a three-pointer by Freeman with 10 minutes 17 seconds remaining in the half, the Hoyas didn't score another field goal until Chris Wright finally hit a jumper with 50 seconds remaining.
That drought of nearly 10 minutes left Georgetown shooting worse than 30 percent in the first half, 20 percent from three-point range. Combine that with eight turnovers and the aggression of a shiatsu massage, and you've got a 40-25 halftime deficit and recipe for a blowout.
"Our execution was horrible. That's the only way to put it," Coach John Thompson III said. "We were coming down, taking quick, contested shots. We weren't making them work at the defensive end."
Meanwhile, the No. 13 Huskies (11-4, 2-2) shot 50 percent, outrebounded the Hoyas, 24-14, and generally looked more in sync.
Thompson was asked if he gave a fire and brimstone speech at halftime. While he pondered the question, Freeman and Greg Monroe both piped up, "He was calm." (Well, what else could they say? He was standing right there.) No matter his demeanor, his team got the message.
The Hoyas began the second half with a 14-3 run -- 10 of those points were Freeman's -- that cut the deficit to six, 45-39. From that point forward it was a typical Georgetown-Connecticut game. The Hoyas took their first lead of the half, 57-55 (on a layup by Freeman, of course) with 8:13 to play, and the lead seesawed until, trailing 70-69, Connecticut's Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker both missed jumpers. A steal by Wright with 13 seconds left and a layup by Moore sealed the victory.
"The way the second half played out I liked," Thompson said. "We go in there at halftime, and this is not to take anything away from [Connecticut], but we felt it was all us. We did not do what we were supposed to do how we were supposed to do it in the first half. We knew if we took care of all that we'd have a chance."
Georgetown still is a bit of a puzzle. This is, essentially, a five-man team. With an 11-man roster, including two walk-ons, the Hoyas have all the depth of a pie tin.
So why would a team whose starters play almost the entire game come out so slow at the start? Logic would seem to dictate that those legs would start to get heavy midway through the second half, not midway through the first. Yet Georgetown scores more points in the second half than in the first, and has all season.
How little do the reserves contribute? It depends on the game, but Saturday only two players came off the bench, Hollis Thompson and Jerrelle Benimon.
They combined for four points in 34 minutes. In a victory over St. John's on New Year's Eve, the bench was outscored 33-0. Overall, the five starters are playing 79 percent of the minutes and contributing 88 percent of the points.
At least the hot hand has changed from game to game among the five starters. Wright has been the leading scorer six times, Monroe three times, Freeman and Jason Clark twice and Julian Vaughn once. Wright, Monroe and Freeman are all averaging double figures.
"I've said this several times: We have a lot of guys in that [locker] room that can score," Thompson said. "This is an unselfish group and I think they're doing a very good job at both ends of the floor for the most apart. Austin was rolling, the guys were unselfish and that's when we're at our best."
They'll have to keep it up; there is little margin for error with so little depth, and one injury could be catastrophic for Georgetown. Still, it was the Hoyas' third win over a ranked opponent this season -- Butler and Washington were the other victims, both away from Verizon Center -- and their fourth straight victory over U-Conn. They'll likely move up in the top 25 when the new poll is released Monday. Then again, a midseason victory over the Huskies isn't always a harbinger of better days ahead.