MILWAUKEE — In the days that followed a blowout loss that could have driven a dagger in Georgetown’s NCAA tournament hopes, Hoyas Coach Patrick Ewing’s belief in his young team never wavered. Disappointed as he was in the lack of energy his team displayed in its previous game, Ewing kept telling his players they needed to show him something in their regular season finale.
Mac McClung and James Akinjo made certain Ewing’s confidence wasn’t in vain.
Next for the Hoyas (19-12, 9-9 Big East), winners of three of their past four games, is the conference tournament, which will begin Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Georgetown is the No. 6 seed in the Big East tournament and will play No. 3 seed Seton Hall at 9:30 p.m. in Thursday’s quarterfinal round. This is the first time the Hoyas have clinched a top-six seed — and received a first-round bye — since they were the No. 2 seed in 2015.
Saturday’s victory, in which the Hoyas erased an eight-point deficit over the final 13 minutes, was undoubtedly the best of the bunch considering what was at stake. The Hoyas, who had fallen from third to seventh in the crowded middle of the Big East with the loss to DePaul, will head to New York with a renewed sense of confidence.
“We knew this was a big game for us,” McClung said. “This could really be a big detriment to our season if we lost this game. We’ve got to keep going, and we’ve got to get a lot better, and we’ve got to be a lot more focused in the Big East tournament.”
Carried by Akinjo (25 points) and McClung (23) down the stretch, the Hoyas used a pair of critical offensive rebounds in the final 20 seconds to hold off Marquette (23-8, 12-6), which dropped its fourth straight game.
Jessie Govan and Jamorko Pickett each scored 10 points for the Hoyas. Markus Howard, the star guard who missed almost all of Marquette’s 74-71 win at Georgetown on Jan. 15 because of a sore back, led the Golden Eagles with 28 points.
Though the Golden Eagles kept the Hoyas from many second-chance opportunities while grabbing 15 offensive rebounds, Georgetown’s ability to corral loose balls while clinging to a slim lead made all the difference.
The Hoyas got enough of a Pickett missed free throw with less than two seconds remaining to keep Marquette from getting off a final shot. Pickett made the first of the two free throws to provide the Hoyas with a two-point lead. But when a scrum followed his miss, Georgetown’s tenacity allowed the Hoyas to escape.
“It was huge,” Ewing said.
As big as the late push was to help secure Saturday’s win, Akinjo and McClung made sure they put the Hoyas in position.
Govan’s three-pointer with 15:49 remaining capped a 10-0 run and gave the Hoyas a three-point lead. Marquette responded with 11 straight points led by Howard.
But facing a deficit that could have deflated them, the Hoyas battled back and tied the game at 63 on an Akinjo three-pointer.
From there, Akinjo and McClung took control. A McClung jumper with 2:54 remaining put the Hoyas back on top at 77-75 before Akinjo grabbed a critical offensive rebound and followed it with a putback to give the Hoyas the lead for good at 79-77.
“I just thought their freshman guards had their way with us,” Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “Credit to them. I mean, they hit tough shots. None of them were easy, but you can’t allow a backcourt to come in here and score” 48 points.
The Hoyas now boast signature victories over Villanova and Marquette, the Big East’s top teams this season, to improve their NCAA résumé. But Ewing cautioned that Saturday’s bounce-back victory won’t carry the same weight if the Hoyas allow history to repeat.
“We followed up [a 77-71 double-overtime victory over Seton Hall] with an egg, and we can’t do that,” Ewing said. “It was a great win today, and it would be a shame if we don’t follow it up on Thursday with another great performance. So we have to build on it.”
If they don’t, they understand it could mean the difference between the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015 and being out of the field.
The key, Akinjo and McClung insisted, will be a sense of focus.
“It’s kind of hard not to get sidetracked after a big win,” Akinjo said. “We’ve got to come in and get to work right away.”
Added McClung: “This shows that DePaul never should have happened. We came into Marquette — what are they ranked? Sixteenth in the country? Their hometown, great atmosphere, and we came in and got the win. That shows we need to play like that all the time.”