Georgetown paid a bit more attention to ball security for stretches of the second half against Liberty on Monday night, and it paid off in an 88-78 win at Capital One Arena, the Hoyas’ final tuneup before renewing a storied rivalry.
Thanks in part to 19 points from freshman guard James Akinjo, matching his career high, Georgetown won its fourth in a row and remained unbeaten at home. Senior center Jessie Govan added 17 points, making both of his three-point attempts, and matched the game high with 10 rebounds.
The Hoyas (7-1) shot 52.7 percent from the field, including a season-best 11 for 18 (61.1 percent) from three-point range. They also committed 19 turnovers, with 11 coming in the first half and another cluster in the closing minutes after constructing a 23-point lead.
Georgetown had just eight turnovers in each of its past two games.
“Definitely was addressed,” Hoyas Coach Patrick Ewing said of the first-half turnovers. “A better job, only eight in the second half, but it was still too many. Again, 19 turnovers. The last two games, we did a better job taking care of the ball, and it’s hard when it’s mental mistakes.”
The Hoyas led 71-48 with 9:39 remaining in the second half following an 18-2 surge and narrowly missed a third consecutive 90-point performance heading into Saturday afternoon’s showdown with former Big East foil Syracuse at Carrier Dome.
The decisive push for Georgetown began with Akinjo’s three-pointer for a 56-46 lead with 14:21 left in the second half. Govan made 1 of 2 free throws followed by a three-pointer, and Greg Malinowski’s driving layup expanded the advantage to 64-48.
Flames Coach Ritchie McKay elected not to use a timeout, and Georgetown continued to get virtually whatever shot it wanted before turnovers plagued the Hoyas again, although the wide cushion allowed them to withstand them down the stretch.
“It’s something we’ve got to clean up,” Govan said of the turnovers. “We had 19 for the game. That’s way too much. Especially when we get to conference play, teams are going to capitalize on that. This team did a good job capitalizing off our turnovers. That’s something that’s going to cost us in Big East play.”
Liberty (7-2), which got 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting from forward Scottie James, owned a 23-9 margin in points off turnovers, with 15 of those in the first half.
But the Hoyas used their considerable advantage in size and length in the frontcourt to finish plus-11 on second-chance points. They also had a 44-26 rebounding edge, heeding Ewing’s message shouted multiple times from the bench during the second half.
Not even regularly sending double-teams at Govan, Trey Mourning and other Hoyas post players yielded much in the way of positive outcomes for Liberty, which ended at an 11-7 deficit on the offensive glass and attempted five free throws to 29 for Georgetown.
The teams exchanged extended runs in the first half, with Georgetown leading 40-38 at halftime despite sloppy possessions and spotty three-point defense.
Facing its largest deficit at home, 30-26, to that point this season, Georgetown climbed back late in the first half with 10 straight points that included three-pointers from Jahvon Blair surrounding freshman guard Mac McClung’s jumper in the lane to reclaim the lead.
Blair did not play in the Hoyas’ previous game, a 90-82 win against visiting Richmond on Wednesday. The sophomore guard had shot just 2 for 13 over his previous three games.
Ewing also modified his regular starting lineup against Liberty, substituting Malinowski for Jamorko Pickett. The sophomore guard had started the first seven games but came off the bench Monday because of what Ewing described as an incident during practice.
Pickett finished with nine points, five rebounds and a game-high five assists, also his most in a game this season, in 28 minutes. The D.C. native was selected to the Big East all-freshman team last season.
The plan is to put Pickett back in the starting lineup against the Orange, Ewing said, particularly given Malinowski banged knees with a Flames player in the second half and limped off the court, leaving his status uncertain for Saturday.
“That’s not really something we bring up,” Mourning said when asked whether teammates spoke to Pickett about the lineup change. “He’s like all of us — we have the goal of winning. Regardless if Coach doesn’t start both of us next game or whatever it may be, we just want to win.”