The dunk, which followed a soaring corner three from sophomore guard Mac McClung, finally secured the Hoyas their first lead since the game’s opening minutes — a tidy mix of old and new digging Georgetown out of a 19-point hole and helping to spur them to an 81-68 comeback win against the Mountaineers.
“The first half was not as good as I wanted as a team, as my personal play,” Yurtseven said. “Second half, we woke up. . . . Once we were aggressive, we crash, we run, and it helped us big time.”
Wednesday’s escape-room victory wasn’t exactly Georgetown’s desired lid-lifter for Coach Patrick Ewing’s third season.
Mount St. Mary’s held the lead for more than 31 minutes, shot 46.3 percent from the field against a mostly feeble defense and made Georgetown’s offense — the highest scoring in the Big East last year — look helter-skelter.
But even imperfect wins are wins, and the Hoyas eked out their first of the season thanks in large part to sophomore point guard James Akinjo’s leadership and Yurtseven — along with a defense that finally found its footing in the second half.
Yurtseven had 20 points and 12 rebounds in his Hoyas debut. Akinjo had 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half, including three three-pointers. McClung rounded out a scoring trio with 16 points.
While McClung and Akinjo, who started the game alongside Yurtseven, junior wing Jamorko Pickett and senior guard Jagan Mosely, were no strangers to the Capital One Arena court, Georgetown debuted five new players. That included a fully formed second unit of reserve players that Ewing sometimes deployed as if Georgetown were an NBA team, in that the five played together for a significant chunk of the first half. Josh LeBlanc, the sophomore big who played in all 33 games last year, did not play because of a coach’s decision. Ewing said the Louisiana native is not injured.
Akinjo attributed the slow start simply to the process of new players still getting accustomed to each other.
“While we practice every day, we can’t simulate a game,” Akinjo said. “A scrimmage, none of that can simulate the intensity of a game. I think a little bit of it was coming out and try to figure everything out, but we just missed a lot of shots, also. Any team, really, when you make shots, it’s easy to play defense. When you miss shots, it’s kind of hard to defend.”
Defense was the main issue of the first half, despite what Ewing described as incessant defensive drilling throughout the preseason.
Georgetown offered Mount St. Mary’s open looks from the perimeter and clear lanes through which the Mountaineers could drive with ease at the start. The Mountaineers took the lead less than two minutes into the game and held steady through early in the second half, when their lead climbed to 19 points.
The Hoyas had nine field goals before halftime and endured long scoring droughts during which they could neither make open shots nor finish attempts at the rim. Georgetown shot 30 percent from the field and made one three-pointer in the first half.
After halftime, Akinjo came out on a mission and the Hoyas came out in a press that finally got them some stops and allowed their offense to flow.
“[Defense is] very big. It’s one of the things we’ve been talking about from this summer,” Ewing said. “Last year we could score with anybody, but our defense was our Achilles’ heel. We talked about picking it up. It starts with individual defense and then also our team defense. Tonight in the first half, it was nonexistent.”
Under that pressure defense and Georgetown’s superior athleticism, Mount St. Mary’s faded late in the second half. A three-pointer from Galen Alexander tied the game at 56-56 with 10:15 to play, and though Mount St. Mary’s briefly regained the lead, a 5-0 run gave the Hoyas the lead for good.
“They woke up. They woke up,” Ewing said. “I thought that we used our press in the second half, the majority of the second half, and I thought that helped them to get things going. In the first half we were 1 for 10 from three, and I’d say about 60 percent of them were open, wide open shots.”
Jalen Gibbs led Mount St. Mary’s with 19 points and Vado Morse had 18 for an impressive Mountaineers offense. But in the second half, Georgetown shot 65.5 percent and bullied its opponent more on defense.
“It felt amazing to be honest to you,” Yurtseven said of his debut game. “We came back from 19. I think that’s a good signal for the team.”