By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 11:49 PM
Saturday night at Sun Dome was one of those occasions.
Wright scored a season-high 26 points - making all six of his free throws in the final 29 seconds - to help the ninth-ranked Hoyas shake off a rough start and a poor shooting performance from Austin Freeman in a 61-55 victory over struggling South Florida.
"Chris can take over a game any number of ways, and today it was his scoring," Coach John Thompson III said. "We were a little sluggish in the first half. But [Wright] got us going at the start of the second half, in the middle of the second half and on down until the end."
Wright's outburst was necessary because Freeman, the Hoyas' leading scorer, was held without a point in the first half and a season-low four points on 2-of-10 shooting. Freeman did, however, lead Georgetown (21-6, 10-5 Big East) in rebounding against the Bulls, who dropped their sixth straight game and fell to 8-20, 2-13.
"I saw that I wasn't hitting anything, so I just had to do other things," said Freeman, who had only 12 points in Wednesday's loss at Connecticut. "The ball wasn't going in."
South Florida Coach Stan Heath, however, credited junior small forward Hugh Robertson with shutting down Freeman, who entered the contest with the third-highest scoring average in the Big East at 18.2 points per game.
Freeman "is a big-time player and we held him down and I thought that gave us a legitimate shot to pull off the upset," Heath said. "But Chris Wright stepped up in a big way for them."
The Bulls nearly rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final 4 minutes 9 seconds, whittling the Hoyas' lead to 55-51 on a pair of free throws from Jawanza Poland with 53 seconds remaining. On the ensuing Georgetown possession, Wright was trapped in the back court and his errant pass was picked off. But before Robertson could convert a layup - and it make it a two-point game - Hollis Thompson swatted Robertson's attempt from behind with 37 seconds left.
South Florida was forced to foul, and the Hoyas astutely got the ball to Wright, who closed out the game at the line.
"Today, Free was a little off," said Wright, who moved past Jeff Green and into 18th place on Georgetown's all-time scoring list. "If that means I've got to score, then that's what it is. It's a matter of understanding the flow of the game and what the team needs."
It wasn't pretty on any level, but the Hoyas avoided an upset. That is a good sign because at times last season, they played down to their level of competition. This season, though, they've defeated each of the conference's sub-.500 teams.
"Am I pleased that we aren't losing the games we lost last year so far? Yes, I am," Thompson said, knocking on the wooden dais. "We're a year older and wiser."
That wisdom, however, wasn't always apparent early.
The Hoyas nursed a 28-26 lead at halftime after getting dominated on the boards early. South Florida owned a 20-14 rebounding edge after 20 minutes, and at one point in the first half they built a seven-point lead as they executed their slow-it-down game plan to near perfection.
"It definitely felt like they were trying to score in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock," Thompson said. "A lot of teams do that, not just to limit your possessions, but because some teams don't have enough of an attention span to play good defense for 35 seconds."
Georgetown's defensive effort, though, was good enough. The Hoyas limited the Big East's worst offensive team to just 39.9 percent shooting from the field (1 of 12 from behind the three-point arc). In the final seven minutes of the first half, they harassed the Bulls into missing 15 of their final 16 shots before the break. The problem for most of the night, particularly early, was the visitors' inability snag a rebound.
The Hoyas were outrebounded for the game 31-27, though they enjoyed a 13-11 advantage in the second half.
"That was one of the halftimes when it was like, defensively, the first part of our defense was okay but the second part of our defense, rebounding, was what we needed to focus on," Thompson said. "We outrebounded them in the second half, and along with Chris's effort, that was the key."