By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010; 12:44 AM
MEMPHIS - Facing one of the toughest opponents on its schedule, in one of the most hostile venues it has visit this season, Georgetown turned to its most experienced players. And, with the pressure at its peak early in the second half, seniors Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn did not disappoint.
Freeman scored a game-high 24 points, Wright chipped in with 19 and Vaughn posted his second career double-double Thursday to lift the No. 10 Hoyas to an 86-69 victory over 16th-ranked Memphis at boisterous FedEx Forum. The defeat was the worst for the Tigers since moving to the downtown arena in 2004-05.
Georgetown (11-1) entered the game ranked second in the nation in shooting percentage at 52.5 percent. And for the third consecutive contest, the Hoyas surpassed that average. Against Memphis, they shot a sizzling 56.9 percent, including a pivotal stretch to start the second half in which they made five of six shots from the floor that turned a four-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage.
"We wanted to come out with more fire than we did in the first half," said Vaughn, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. "That was a big emphasis: coming out with energy. And it carried us throughout the second half."
Coach John Thompson III added: "In the second half, our guys refocused and executed, particularly at the defensive end, better than we did in the first half. It was not any huge tactical change. I just went into halftime and challenged them to do what we do better than they do what they do."
Vaughn opened the final 20 minutes with an emphatic putback. Then, Wright put Georgetown ahead 54-43 after consecutive drives to the hoop only four minutes in. The Tigers (9-2), behind Will Barton's team-high 18 points, trimmed their deficit to 65-56 on a dunk by Barton with 7 minutes 35 seconds to play. But the freshman guard was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and Freeman sank a pair of ensuing free throws at the other end. It was all Hoyas the rest of the way.
Thompson said the Hoyas' remarkable efficiency at the offensive end is the result of the team's collective unselfishness. Indeed, seven players combined to record 18 assists for Georgetown.
"We have some unselfish players who have done a very good job of getting each other open shots and quality shots," Thompson said. "If we do that, we're going to get good shots. And with the offensive players we have, when we get good shots they're going to go in."
Georgetown has defeated two ranked opponents and five teams considered to be the favorite to capture their respective conference's championship. But the "real" season, as Thompson put it, begins Wednesday against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
"Hopefully this game, hopefully the Temple game, hopefully the Missouri game, hopefully the Old Dominion game will help prepare us, not only because of the quality of the opponent but also because the venues and the opposing teams' fans," Thompson said. "Hopefully we're used to it."
Thompson was answering a question about the intense heckling the Hoyas received from a group of fans seated behind their bench. Most of the players ignored it; however, at least two underclassmen looked into the stands when their names were yelled.
"I just don't listen to them," Wright said with a shrug. "We've been in arenas where it's been crazy, people yelling at you, saying inappropriate things."
In addition to a home-court advantage, Coach Josh Pastner's decision to play leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery backfired. The junior struggled mightily and finished with three points. He also acknowledged he should have called for more passes underneath to forwards Will Coleman and Tarik Black, who were a combined 10 of 14 from the field.
But, in the end, the Tigers' undoing came at the other end of the floor, where they just didn't have an answer for a Hoyas' offense that methodically seeks out good shots, possession after possession.
"It's hard to beat a team when they shoot 57 percent from the field," Pastner said. "Their shooters, those guards, are really, really, really good. We went to a matchup zone at times, and they hurt us. We went to man, they hurt us there on some key shots."