By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 12:17 AM
Circumstances suddenly became a bit uncomfortable for the ninth-ranked Georgetown men's basketball team Saturday when DePaul whittled the Hoyas' double-digit lead in the second half to a single point. That's when Chris Wright moved to the left wing and discharged a three-point shot that missed but sent the senior guard to the foul line after he drew contact.
Wright sank all three free throws, then continued an assertive bent that buoyed Georgetown when it mattered most in a sometimes sloppy 86-75 victory before 11,718 at Verizon Center. Wright collected all 17 of his points in the second half, and senior Austin Freeman and junior Jason Clark each contributed a team-high 21 in the Hoyas' first New Year's Day game since 1943.
Georgetown (12-2, 1-1) got its first Big East win after opening conference play Wednesday with a loss at Notre Dame during which its shooting, particularly from three-point range, was substandard. On Saturday, the Hoyas shot 52.5 percent overall, while making 5 of 14 from three-point range to nearly double their percentage from that distance against the Fighting Irish.
The Hoyas beat DePaul for the 10th consecutive time thanks in part to unyielding defense late in the second half that kept the Blue Demons (6-8, 0-2) without a field goal for more than five minutes. But even before that stretch, Wright took it upon himself to get into the lane with authority rather than settle for jumpers, weaving into the teeth of DePaul's zone defense - often with disregard for the accompanying hard fouls.
"I can take anybody off the dribble," said Wright, who shot 5 for 9 in the second half after an admittedly timid 0 for 3 in the first 20 minutes. "Simple as that."
Wright's moxie showed clearly during one sequence in the second half when he scored six straight points, including a layup after stealing the ball, shortly after the Blue Demons got to 60-57 with 11 minutes to play. It was the closest they came since 51-50 four minutes earlier.
Georgetown used an 8-0 run shortly thereafter to build a 79-65 lead with 2 minutes 40 seconds to play, with Wright making a free throw to start and close the charge. In between, Wright penetrated deep into the paint and delivered a pinpoint pass to Freeman, who converted the short field goal attempt.
Wright then got into the lane again only to miss, but drew enough attention to leave Henry Sims isolated for a tip-in.
"I think that's something we have the luxury of falling back on, not only experienced players, but very good players," Coach John Thompson III said. "We felt like we were in quicksand, particularly in the first half. Chris got going in the second half, and as always, as Chris gets going, we get going. They cut it to one, and I don't think any of us were particularly fazed. We knew what we had to do to win the game."
Leaning on the maturity of Wright, Freeman and Clark was at the top of that list. It's the sixth time this season each member of Georgetown's big three scored in double figures, and the Hoyas improved to 5-1 in such instances.
Freeman drew a charge late in the second half and followed that with a basket, and his three-pointer with 6:44 to play gave Georgetown a 71-63 lead. Clark, meantime, had a handful of acrobatic moves around the basket, including a running one-hander in the lane with 5:29 left and a three-point play minutes later that bumped the lead to 15 points.
Clark then got loose for a dunk, and Wright added some showmanship of his own by blowing by a defender for a layup that gave the Hoyas an 86-69 buffer with 1:12 to play. DePaul's suffered its 25th straight road loss and 15th straight anywhere against conference opponents despite Georgetown's 14 turnovers and 39-36 rebounding deficit, including 18-13 offensively.
"I guess we got stops when we had to coming down the stretch," Thompson said. "Every win is not going to be pretty. To say this was not an ugly win would be an understatement, but every league win is a damn good win, so we'll take it."