Tenth-ranked Georgetown remained undefeated with a 71-67 victory over Texas-El Paso at Capital Centre yesterday because 6-foot-4 junior Perry McDonald continued to fantasize that he is 6-10, and because some new Hoyas didn't play like rookies with the game on the line.
With sophomore center/forward Johnathan Edwards out again with an injured back and junior forward Ronnie Highsmith on the bench with a sprained ankle, the Hoyas had to find someone to do the messy work inside.
And for the second time in three games, McDonald had the kind of strong inside game Georgetown sorely needs. He scored 18 points and had eight rebounds, six of them on the offensive end, despite a gash on his right cheek that required four stitches after the game.
Late Friday night, after injuries had sidelined Georgetown's only experienced front court players, it would have been tough to convince Coach John Thompson he could win yesterday's game, ultimately decided when UTEP missed two three-point shots in the final 17 seconds.
And it would have been even more difficult to convince Thompson of that in the first half, with the Hoyas unable to score a field goal for the first four minutes and two starters eventually needing stitches for battle wounds.
"It's the most satisfying win of the year, particularly based on this set of circumstances," Thompson said. "This was a good thing that happened today, and you couldn't have told me that yesterday. . . . I don't think young kids grow up in any one basketball game, but they took a giant step in that direction."
Senior all-America Reggie Williams had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead Georgetown (7-0) statistically, as is becoming customary. Williams' final rebound, of Quintan Gates' missed three-point shot, and two free throws with nine seconds left helped secure the victory for Georgetown.
But there was no way Williams could win this one by himself. The Miners (6-2) came in with a six-game winning streak. They were quick, strong, well-coached, and fully aware they had throttled Georgetown in El Paso last December.
Enter McDonald. He had 11 points in the first half to help the Hoyas erase an 8-0 deficit and hold a 29-24 lead at halftime. Although UTEP closed to two points in the second half, the Miners never regained the lead.
The big men who did play for Georgetown -- 7-0 junior transfer Ben Gillery and 6-9 freshman Sam Jefferson (four stitches for a cut over the right eye) -- couldn't be expected to do much against veteran UTEP strongmen such as 6-9 Mike Richmond (19 points, 10 rebounds and several monster dunks). So McDonald went into his "big man" mind-set.
In fact, an offensive rebound basket by McDonald (following a missed shot by freshman Dwayne Bryant) gave Georgetown the lead for good, 22-20.
When UTEP, down by seven to nine points most of the second half, closed to 55-52 with eight minutes to play on a dunk and foul shot by Richmond, McDonald made a critical play.
Georgetown's Bryant had a short jumper blocked by Gates, but McDonald was there again to put in the offensive rebound that gave the Hoyas some breathing room, 57-52. And McDonald's steal in open court from Chris Blocker pushed the margin to 61-54 with just less than seven minutes to play.
Georgetown needed every bit of cushion it could find because the Miners weren't out of it until guard Tim Hardaway and Gates missed consecutive three-pointers with 17 and 10 seconds remaining, respectively.
"I was open," said Gates, "until they put their hands in my face. I should have made it."
"When it got to be a war out there, Perry surfaced," Thompson said. "He likes to play the [power forward] spot. He wants to take somebody inside and post them up."
Thompson had spotted a soft spot in UTEP's zone defense, which not only allowed McDonald to continually get inside, but permitted guards Charles Smith and Bobby Winston to continually penetrate for short shots or foul shots.
Thompson said Smith's performance off the bench, in fact, set the tone for the game.
"They were playing a 1-3-1 zone and there were openings in it," McDonald said. "I was able to sneak in the middle of it, for points or for rebounds."
Although the Hoyas were nervous down the stretch, Williams said he thinks that is good for a team with so many young players (eight freshmen or sophomores).
"We've only got two games before the Big East season starts; I just think young guys need some real close games like this in December," Williams said.
"Last year UTEP really kicked us on the offensive boards," Thompson said. "At one point today I saw the kids grit their teeth and really start playing [Georgetown had 17 offensive rebounds to UTEP's four]."
Thompson doesn't know whether to be encouraged about Edwards, probably the Hoyas' strongest inside player. "I could have used Ronnie [Highsmith] today for a special situation, but I decided not to," Thompson said. "But there is so much people don't know about backs, that it's wait-and-see with Johnathan.