By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 11:10 PM
PHILADELPHIA - A near-capacity crowd was whipped into a frenzy inside Wells Fargo Center, Villanova's defenders swarmed all over the court and a crucial Big East game had yet to be decided.
Austin Freeman, though, was the picture of calm and cool amid the noise and pressure. The senior scored 10 of Georgetown's final 12 points, including a long jumper from the corner in the final minute, and finished with 30 points to lift the 21st-ranked Hoyas to their fourth straight victory, 69-66 over No. 8 Villanova on Saturday afternoon.
"Austin Freeman, in most situations, is unflappable," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "So that last three minutes was just indicative of what he's done here for four years. I tell you what: I'm glad number 15 is on our team. There's a comfort level. [Villanova] was running, jumping, trapping, tripling sometimes. It made it hard to do anything. But we felt that when he had the ball in his hands, good things happen."
Freeman's third 30-point performance of the season helped the Hoyas improve to 16-5 overall, 5-4 in the conference and extend their longest winning streak in league play since a run of six in a row in 2007-08. The Wildcats, meantime, suffered their first loss at home this season (11-1) and their third defeat in four games. Afterward, they lamented their inability to stop Georgetown's leading scorer.
"He made every play down the stretch," Villanova Coach Jay Wright said of Freeman, who grabbed four rebounds and matched a career high with six assists. "And not just shots."
Despite owning leads of 11 and 10 points in the second half, the Hoyas found themselves clinging to a one-point edge after Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns led a 6-0 charge that trimmed the visitors' edge to 61-60.
That, as it turned out, was Freeman's cue to seize control. He scored a putback of his own miss to restore Georgetown's three-point advantage. Then, after Corey Fisher knocked down a pair free throws, Freeman made one of the Hoyas' biggest shots of the season - with a little help from point guard Chris Wright.
Trapped against the sideline by two Wildcats and out of timeouts, Wright muscled his way through the defenders and fired a cross-court pass to Freeman, who nailed a long jumper just in front of the Georgetown bench to put the Hoyas ahead, 65-62, with 40.9 seconds left to play. Four seconds were on the shot clock when he launched the shot.
"I told you I'm strong," cracked Wright, who had six assists but finished without a point for the first time since his freshman season. "They tried to tackle me and I just tried to break through it."
Freeman added, "When Chris passed me the ball, I at least wanted to get the ball on the rim."
Moments later, Freeman slipped out a trap near midcourt and rifled a pass to Nate Lubick (eight points, three assists) for a wide-open dunk to make the score 67-64. Again, the Wildcats cut their deficit to a point, but after Freeman made a pair of free throws (he's made 23 in a row over the past four games), Antonio Pena and Dominic Cheek each missed desperation three-point attempts as the Hoyas held on and improved to 15-0 when scoring 68 points or more.
One game after shutting down St. John's guards, Georgetown's defense, led by Wright and Lubick, limited the Wildcats to 40.7 percent shooting and contained Fisher, Wayns and Stokes, Villanova's perimeter threats. Six Hoyas blocked at least one shot.
"Defensive focus has been better," Thompson said. "Our guys are starting to take a little bit of ownership and pride in, 'I need to stop my man.' "
Since losing three straight games earlier this month, the Hoyas have fought their way back into contention in a conference that's been anything but predictable. Saturday's win was another huge step.
Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon "said this a few weeks ago: The first part of the season, Big East teams beat up on the rest of the country," Thompson said. "Now conference play starts, we start to beat each other up and people out there are going to start questioning: 'What's wrong with this team? What's wrong with that team?' It's life in the Big East. We had to climb out. And we still are climbing out."
That climb will be much easier if Freeman, the reigning conference player of the week, keeps this up. He's averaging 24.3 points during the winning streak.
"We all have roles, and Austin's role is to score 30 points in games like this," Wright joked. "On the defensive end, we were all focused on guarding penetration and containing our guys and forcing them into tough shots. On offense, it was get the ball to Austin."