By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 9:58 PM
Austin Freeman doesn't always know when it's going to happen, but he says there's no mistaking the feeling when it does.
Three-pointers snap through the net, jump shots hardly touch the iron, and lanes to the rim appear as open as the Beltway at 4 a.m. That's pretty much how things unfolded for Freeman on Georgetown's trip through New Jersey, where the senior emerged from a slump by sinking 16 of 25 attempts (64 percent) from the field and scoring a combined 53 points in back-to-back wins over Rutgers and Seton Hall, his sizzling performance against the Pirates earning him Big East player of the week honors for the first time in his career.
"I don't know what to say," Freeman said, shrugging and smiling meekly as he often does when asked about personal accolades. "It's an honor. [But] it also means people are going to come after me. So I have to be prepared."
The next opponent set to hunt the Hoyas' leading scorer will be St. John's (11-7, 4-4) on Wednesday in an anticipated rematch for No. 21 Georgetown (14-5, 3-4) and a chance for Freeman to redeem himself.
When the rivals met at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3, the Red Storm eked out a 61-58 victory in a game Coach John Thompson III called his team's "poorest" performance of the season. Freeman, meanwhile, was limited to a season-low six points on 2-for-10 shooting, more than 12 points less than his average and only his second single-digit output of 2010-11. His potential go-ahead jumper was tipped out of bounds by Justin Brownlee with four seconds remaining, only adding to his anguish.
Freeman said this week that the Red Storm caught him off guard with its swarming, matchup zone defense.
"We were trying to figure out what they were doing, and it slowed us all down," Freeman said. "It made us really passive and lethargic. They were all over me, pretty much everywhere I went. As soon as I made a move, somebody was there."
This time, though, Freeman said he's prepared for St. John's Coach Steve Lavin's complex scheme.
"I want to be aggressive," he said. "Attack the defense, take the open shot when I have it, rebound and help my teammates out on the offensive end [by] getting them the ball when they're open."
Putting up 20 or more points wouldn't hurt, either. In fact, the Hoyas are 8-1 when Freeman does.
Last week's offensive outburst propelled Freeman past Allen Iverson and into a tie with Brandon Bowman for 12th all-time on Georgetown's points list with 1,548. With a minimum of 12 games remaining, a spot inside the program's top 10 almost surely awaits.
But breaking down opposing teams won't be the only defense on Freeman and his teammates' minds as the second half of the conference season approaches. The Hoyas rank 131st nationally in field goal percentage defense (42 percent) and 12th in the Big East.
The inability to get stops at critical moments has hurt them at times, and it nearly dealt them a devastating blow during Seton Hall's 19-2 run in the second half last Tuesday. The Pirates made nine of their 14 shots during that stretch, with six scores coming on layups or dunks.
As he promised in the moments after his team's comeback against Seton Hall, Thompson's practices in the seven days between games have focused on defense. The sessions, he said, were as much about structure as desire.
"You can put in place whatever defensive schemes, but at the end of the day, it's 'You have the ball and I'm guarding you, and I have to stop you,' " Thompson said. "A lot of times, the kids would get bogged down with our schemes as opposed to 'Hey, you have to compete.' This is competition. There's no magic formula, no dust Coach can sprinkle, or dust my teammates can sprinkle, to make that happen. At some point, it's you against me."