By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 11:33 PM
NEWARK - Georgetown rolled into New Jersey over the weekend mired in a season-jeopardizing slump. They pulled out of Prudential Center late Tuesday night with their second victory in 72 hours, the swagger they possessed a month ago and a week-long break to prepare for their next opponent.
To say the Hoyas saved their season along the Turnpike might be a stretch. But not by much.
"It's a huge confidence booster," Julian Vaughn said after Georgetown's come-from-behind 80-75 victory over sub.-500 Seton Hall. "We had a little adversity, but this group has never pointed fingers, has always stayed together. This group is together as one unit."
Never was that more apparent than in the final minutes against the Pirates, who had opened a six-point lead with 3 minutes 6 seconds to play.
But there was no panic for Georgetown.
Vaughn had 11 points and four blocked shots; Freeman finished with a game-high 28 points; and Wright scored 17 and dished out six assists.
"Down the stretch there, they are seniors," Coach John Thompson III said. "They understand where we are, they understand what this league is, they understand what it takes to win in this league in a game that was, by no stretch, how we wanted it to look. To come away with a win was good."
Good, indeed. It vaulted the No. 23 Hoyas back into the thick of the Big East race at 14-5 overall and 3-4 in the conference.
But the game, and perhaps the Hoyas' season, could have gone either way in the final minutes.
After Jeff Robinson put the Pirates ahead 73-67, the Hoyas calmly and methodically worked their way back into it. Vaughn's second layup in three possessions tied the score, 73-73, with 1:25 left. At the other end, the 6-10 center grabbed one of his six rebounds, which led to a free throw by Wright, who restored the Hoyas' edge, 74-73, in a wild second half that began with the visitors taking a 10-point lead and the Pirates seizing control with a 19-2 run.
"Every dead ball and every time out, we were saying, 'Fellas, there's still 10 minutes on the clock," Thompson said, "Fellas, there's still seven minutes on the clock. Fellas, there's still four minutes on the clock. And we know what we can do in a short period of time. We always felt we had enough time."
Freeman knocked down a pair of free throws to put Georgetown ahead 76-73. It almost wasn't enough. Seton Hall's Jordan Theodore spotted up for a three-pointer, but it was scored a two-pointer because his foot was on the line. Then, after Wright extended Georgetown's lead to 78-75 with two more free throws, Thompson made an interesting decision. He told his team to foul on the next Pirates' possession, and Keon Lawrence missed the front half of a one-and-one. Vaughn came down with the game clinching rebound.
"Julian promised me that he would get the rebound," Thompson said. "So we decided to foul."
Vaughn added: "He trusted me and it worked."
The Pirates undermined their effort by going 2 for 7 from the free thow line in the final 5:41. They were also hurt by Herb Pope (16 points, 9 rebounds) fouling out with 2:11 remaining.
"If we had made some free throws after that run, that would have helped keep it going," Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard said. "We just didn't take advantage of our opportunities at the free throw line."
The Hoyas have a welcome break until hosting St. John's on Jan. 26. Which, in Thompson's estimation, is a good thing. Because it gives him and his staff plenty of time to work on the team's porous defense, particularly inside. Seton Hall scored 44 points in the paint. That, after Rutgers scored 34 on Saturday.
"In our next practice, I don't know if we're going to do anything other than play one-on-one," Thompson said. "We did a very poor job at the defensive end. We went from up 10 to down seven. During that stretch we felt like we got open looks that didn't go in that turned into run-outs for them, and part of the time we had shots we shouldn't have taken that turned into run-outs for them. They were getting too many easy baskets."
The positives, though, outweighed all else considering the scale of the Hoyas' comeback and what it might do for the team's confidence entering the second half of the conference schedule.
"We didn't get flustered," Wright said. "We always felt like we could get back in the game."