By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010; D07
Even before Georgetown's regular season finale tipped off Saturday, there was no question whom the Verizon Center crowd considered the Hoyas' most valuable player.
The stands were dotted with hand-lettered signs in support of junior guard Austin Freeman, who learned he had diabetes just five days earlier.
"Thank You Austin!" read one.
"He Who Is Brave Is FREE," read another.
Plus, eight Georgetown students standing shoulder to shoulder in the front row hoisted signs that spelled out "AFREE_15" (Freeman's Twitter sign-on), with each sign covered with handwritten notes of encouragement, forming an eight-part get-well card they intended to give their classmate later.
It wasn't even clear if Freeman would play against Cincinnati. But to cheers from the crowd of 17,054, Freeman didn't only reclaim his spot in the starting lineup; he scored a game-high 24 points in Georgetown's 74-47 rout.
It was a victory Georgetown (20-9, 10-8) badly needed, as it clinched the No. 8 seed and a first-round bye in the Big East tournament. As a result, the Hoyas get an extra day's rest. Georgetown will open play Wednesday at noon against either ninth-seeded South Florida or 16th-seeded DePaul.
With the win, Georgetown halted a late-season slide after losing four of its previous five games. And the commanding margin sent the Hoyas into the postseason with new confidence and no doubt about Freeman's ability to contribute.
"As long as we can limit the sways in his [blood-sugar] levels, we don't anticipate" a problem, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "We're going to see a lot more games this year like that."
Freeman played all but 10 minutes Saturday, cycling on and off the court so team trainer Lorry Michel could measure his blood sugar with a hand-held monitor, and along with Stephen Clement, director of Georgetown University's Diabetes Center, monitor the extent to which the exertion was affecting him.
"I'm fine," said Freeman, who was 8 of 15 from the floor, including four timely three-pointers, and flawless in four trips to the free throw line. "It was just good to be out there and playing with my teammates and just doing what I do."
Freeman's return seemed to revitalize his teammates. Sophomore center Greg Monroe played with a ferocity he hasn't displayed in weeks, muscling his way to the basket for 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Chris Wright added 16 points while shrewdly directing the Hoyas against an erratic performance by Cincinnati (16-14, 7-11), which was playing its third game in seven days against a top 20 opponent.
After closing the first half with a 29-26 lead, Georgetown went on a scoring romp, outscoring Cincinnati, 45-21, in the second half.
Freshman guard Lance Stephenson (23 points) was the only player who stood out for the Bearcats. Senior Deonta Vaughn, pivotal in Cincinnati's sweep of the Hoyas last season, only attempted three shots and missed all of them. Next to Stephenson, the high scorer for Cincinnati was sophomore Yancy Gates, who managed just seven points.
With Monroe leading the charge, Georgetown outrebounded Cincinnati, 40-28, and scored 22 points off Bearcats turnovers.
Freeman was showered with at least four standing ovations for his clutch long-range shooting and dogged effort.
"Man, I was happy to have their support out there," Freeman said of the crowd. "It kept me going. I want to thank them a lot, too."
He made the first two shots he attempted, spurring the Hoyas to a 9-5 lead. Cincinnati answered with a 10-3 run.
Freeman made a second three-pointer to put the Hoyas up 17-15, and followed with a layup that circled the rim before falling.
The crowd burst into chants of "Austin Freeman, Austin Freeman," who at that point had scored 10 of Georgetown's 19 points.
Freeman received another standing ovation after a three-pointer that made it 40-32. From there, it was all Georgetown, with Cincinnati making just eight field goals in the second half.
Said Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin: "There's a difference between playing hard and playing well. Playing hard is only going to get you so far."