Connecticut (14-6, 11-6 Big East) had positioned itself well for the NCAA tournament, and a poor outing Saturday wouldn’t have hurt the Huskies too much. But they did more than avoid a letdown on senior day; they excelled on both ends of the floor, won for the sixth time in seven games and suggested they’re capable of making a tournament run this month.
But first up is the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. With Saturday’s loss, the Hoyas are the No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 Marquette in the first round at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The Hoyas (9-12, 7-9) had won four of five, and their only loss during that stretch was against Connecticut on Feb. 23 at McDonough Arena. The chance to win the rematch slipped away quickly and in dreadful fashion. The Hoyas struggled to defend Connecticut’s talented guards — highlighted by James Bouknight’s 21-point performance. Georgetown shot 46.6 percent but had a vastly different performance in each half: 30.0 percent in the first and 55.3 percent in the second. Less than 15 minutes in, the Hoyas trailed by 20 points.
“The way we started out the game,” Ewing said, “we didn’t have the intensity or the effort that we needed to be in this ballgame.”
Georgetown played better in the second half, making 6 of 9 field goals to start and then sustaining the improved effort. The Hoyas hit their first six three-point attempts of the half — three from Chudier Bile and three from Jahvon Blair — after missing all five of their shots from deep before halftime.
Blair, a senior guard and the Hoyas’ leading scorer, again did not start. He didn’t dress in Georgetown’s win at DePaul seven days earlier, and he wasn’t in the starting lineup Tuesday, when the Hoyas defeated Xavier. Ewing has called those absences a coach’s decision. Against the Huskies, Blair had a game-high 22 points in 24 minutes.
Bile led Georgetown’s second-half push with 11 of his 15 points coming after halftime, but he fouled out with 5:35 to go. Sophomore center Qudus Wahab finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. But the Huskies’ massive lead, which grew to 29 points late in the first half, made the climb back far too steep for the Hoyas to threaten.
Georgetown is the best rebounding team in the Big East, averaging 38.4 boards, but the Huskies dominated the Hoyas on the glass. Connecticut finished with a 35-26 advantage, a deficiency that was particularly glaring during the first half. The Hoyas grabbed only nine rebounds, with none of those coming on the offensive end, while the Huskies finished the half with 23.
“We evened up the rebounding effort a little bit,” Ewing said. “But they were kicking our butts on the glass.”
Connecticut jumped to a 12-0 lead that set the tone. Bouknight scored 11 points in the first seven minutes and made his first three attempts from three-point range. (Before this game, Bouknight averaged only 1.5 three-pointers per game.) Bouknight missed more than a month because of an elbow injury, but he has scored at least 16 points in every game since he returned Feb. 16.
Bouknight is poised to be a difference-maker for the Huskies in March, but he’s part of a talented, deep roster. Six Huskies reached double figures against the Hoyas, including sophomore guard Jalen Gaffney, who scored 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting off the bench. Gaffney hadn’t scored more than five points in a game since Feb. 6.
“The defensive scheme wasn’t good enough,” Ewing said. “Instead of being on the body, we give space. And if you give space to shooters, they’re going to make them.”
Connecticut made 12 of 28 three-point attempts, and its offense operated with ease, scoring a season-high 51 points in the first half to take a 27-point lead. Georgetown, meanwhile, had fewer field goals (six) than turnovers (eight) in the first half. Ewing said his team was selfish and pointed out how the Hoyas had just one assist before halftime.
“We’re not going to burn the tape,” he added. “We’re going to watch film on it tomorrow. Then we might burn it. But we have to talk about the things we didn’t do right.”