PHILADELPHIA, JAN. 14 -- The Georgetown Hoyas tonight got a cruel dose of life on the road in the Big East Conference. Foul-plagued Dikembe Mutombo joined still-ailing twin-towers partner Alonzo Mourning on the Hoyas' bench for the stretch run, and Villanova took control from the free throw line on its way to a 65-56 victory before 17,244 at The Spectrum.
The Wildcats won despite failing to get a field goal in the game's final 5:32 and making only eight of 30 shots in the second half. However, they made 12 of 14 foul shots to break a 53-53 deadlock and complete a 27-of-35 performance (Georgetown was 14 for 16).
The 19th-ranked Hoyas managed just three points after Mutombo fouled out with 2:04 remaining.
"I've really been trying not to foul lately," said Mutombo, who committed six fouls in Georgetown's first three Big East games. "That's something that's important because I'm the only big man."
That might change soon, for Hoyas Coach John Thompson hinted that Mourning -- sidelined with a strained left arch for all but one game in the past six weeks -- may be close to returning. He has been walking through a few drills in practice and Georgetown (10-4, 2-2 in the Big East) is off until Saturday. "Let's just say that Alonzo's in the bullpen," Thompson said.
Mutombo could use the help. Lately he has had little assistance inside and often plays with four freshmen around him. He made all eight of his field goal attempts tonight and finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocked shots in 30 minutes, but the Wildcats (9-6, 2-3) removed him from the Hoyas' offense for long stretches with sagging and helping defenses and an attacking approach aimed at getting him in foul trouble.
"We felt we had to drive the ball at Mutombo," Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino said. ". . . This is a terrific Georgetown team. They play hard, they go after it and they have a lottery pick on their team."
Yet Mutombo's teammates made only 13 of 46 shots, and Georgetown was outrebounded by a 38-33 margin despite Massimino's claim that "we can't out-board a junior high school team; that's amazing."
The Hoyas -- who had a five-game winning streak against Villanova -- had an early seven-point lead, but trailed by nine early in the second half and faced an uphill battle for a fourth straight time in conference play.
And for a fourth straight time, they pulled off a second-half surge, but this one ended with Mutombo's departure. "We have certain spans where we have to mature," Thompson said. "I felt good about the effort. It's just a matter of being a little more mature, and I think we're heading in that direction.
"We're hanging on. . . . I think this league probably will be decided in the last week, and hopefully we can still be close enough by then to have a chance to pull it out."
It has been a season of struggle for the Wildcats, who won only one of their previous five home games and have tried 10 players in the starting lineup. To combat Mutombo, Massimino began with 7-foot-2 Paul Vrind at center; the junior from the Netherlands had scored 40 career points and made two starts.
He was sluggish at the outset, to put it mildly. He accumulated three fouls, a turnover and shot an ugly air ball in the opening two minutes, and the Hoyas got points from four of their starters to race to a 10-3 advantage in 4 1/2 minutes.
But Georgetown's lead quickly disappeared. Villanova tied the game at 14 midway through the half on a free throw by freshman forward Anthony Pelle, and guard Lance Miller (team-high 18 points, including 10-of-12 free throw accuracy) and forward Calvin Byrd began to find room in the lane as Villanova opened up a five-point lead.
Mutombo converted an alley-oop dunk from Robert Churchwell (11 points) that pulled the Hoyas to 30-28 and drew Vrind's fourth foul. But Villanova got a three-pointer from Chris Walker and two free throws by Miller to make it 35-28 at halftime.
The Wildcats upped the cushion to nine points on Marc Dowdell's followup to open the second half, but a jumper by Charles Harrison, a tip-in by Churchwell and Mutombo's layup rapidly got Georgetown back in contention. The Hoyas pulled even, 40-40, on back-to-back layups by Mutombo with just more than 12 minutes to play.
It was knotted at 47 when Mutombo picked up his fifth foul on a charging call with 7:44 left, prompting Thompson to glare across the court at referee Dan Chrisman for several moments at the start of an ensuing timeout.
The Hoyas compensated, though, and the outcome was in the balance until, at 53-53, Dowdell drove the lane to draw Mutombo's sixth foul. From there, the Hoyas' attack disintegrated, as they missed five straight shots to put the exclamation mark on a 10-for-32 second half.