Neither a packed, boisterous crowd on campus at McDonough Gymnasium nor the desire to soothe the lingering sting from a crushing loss in the Big East tournament last week could spur Georgetown past Harvard in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday.
The third-seeded Hoyas lost, 71-68, to shut the door on Coach Patrick Ewing’s second season at his alma mater. The sixth-seeded Crimson advance to face No. 2 seed North Carolina State in Raleigh on Sunday.
Georgetown (19-14) managed to give the near-capacity crowd of 2,253, which included Supreme Court Justice and Harvard Law School alumna Elena Kagan, a thrill toward the end: After trailing for most of the final 10 minutes, a three-pointer from senior center Jessie Govan put the Hoyas within one point with 38 seconds remaining.
Freshman guard James Akinjo then fouled Bryce Aiken, Harvard’s leading scorer, with the shot clock running down. Aiken hit two free throws to widen the Crimson’s lead with 14 seconds remaining. But Govan’s three-point heave — beyond an arc extended nearly two feet past the college three-point line to match FIBA’s as a part of the NIT’s experimental rules — with seven seconds to play fell short.
Graduate transfer Greg Malinowski collected the rebound in front of Georgetown’s bench but couldn’t get a shot off in time.
Everyone from Ewing to Akinjo to Govan, who led the team with 25 points in his final game in a Georgetown uniform, was frustrated by the loss.
“Made mistakes. Made mistakes the whole game,” Ewing said, flatly. “Didn’t make the right plays. Didn’t make the right shots. They outrebounded us. . . . I believe where we lost the game is we kept shooting threes when we should have penetrated with the ball and drive in and get to the paint. They did that.”
“This was extremely frustrating,” Akinjo said. “I felt like we had an opportunity to do something really big, not just for ourselves but for the program, and it didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.”
Georgetown looked lackadaisical from the start. Harvard (19-11) attacked the Hoyas in the paint to gain a 13-6 lead just four minutes into the game. That lax effort, despite the partisan crowd, continued for most of the night and hurt the Hoyas most on the glass. The Crimson had a 21-14 rebounding edge at intermission and outrebounded Georgetown 39-30 for the game.
It was the first time the Hoyas have lost to Harvard in four meetings.
“I guess they wanted it more than we did,” Ewing said. “I don’t care how tall you are or big you are — I’ve seen tall people, small people — if you want the ball, you go get the ball.”
Turnovers kept things competitive — Harvard had 16 to Georgetown’s eight — while the Hoyas suffered a nearly nine-minute dry spell in the second half. In addition to Govan’s big night, Akinjo had 15 points and fellow freshman guard Mac McClung had 10.
It wasn’t enough to combat four Harvard scorers in double figures. Aiken, who scored 33 points in a loss to Yale in the Ivy League tournament title game, led the Crimson with 18 points Wednesday.
The loss summarized Georgetown’s season. Ewing viewed making it to the NIT — the Hoyas’ first postseason tournament since they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2015 — as another step in his program’s growth but was ultimately left with a feeling of disappointment as he looked toward the offseason.
“I believe that we had a very good year. We won 15 games last year; we won 19 this year,” Ewing said. “Hopefully next year we’ll make a lot more, make the NCAAs and go far. Right now it hurts. I’m disappointed. It’s a tough loss. Now we have to start going out to recruit and getting ready for next year. My seniors, I’d like to thank them for the hard work they’ve put in.”
Tyrell Gumbs-Frater had 22 points as Coastal Carolina beat Howard, 81-72, in the College Basketball Invitational’s opening round in Conway, S.C.
Zac Cuthbertson had 18 points for the Chanticleers (16-16). Ebrima Dibba added 13 points.
Charles Williams had 17 points for the Bison (17-17). RJ Cole added 14 points. Kyle Foster had 10 points.