PHILADELPHIA – That’s why he was named the Big East preseason player of the year.
On the road at No. 8 Villanova (17-4, 5-3 Big East), the No. 21 Hoyas (16-5, 5-4 Big East) took full advantage of a national stage and proved they are back in Big East contention, riding senior guard Austin Freeman’s 30 points and six assists to a 69-66 victory on Saturday. The clutch captain carried Georgetown to the crucial win with 10 of his team’s final 12 points.
“Austin Freeman in most situations is unflappable,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “So that last three minutes is indicative of what he’s done for four years here. I’m glad No. 15 was on our team. They were just running, jumping, trapping, tripling sometimes, it made it difficult to do things at times, so when you put the ball in his hands, good things happen.”
For the second time in as many games, the Hoyas clamped down on defense and showed a noticeably heightened sense of focus and energy. Led by senior guard Chris Wright, who did not score but played exceptionally well on the other end, Georgetown held Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and crew to just 40.7 percent shooting, including 37 percent to set the tone in the first half.
“I think our defensive focus has been better,” Thompson said. “I think our guys are starting to take a little bit of ownership and pride in, ‘I need to stop my man.’ If there’s one thing I would point to during this [four-game winning streak] relative to the [1-4 start], it would be that.”
The Hoyas fought back from 10-5 down to start the game, and Freeman’s free throws at the 7:38 mark of the first half gave Georgetown a 19-17 lead, one it never relinquished. Aside from hitting all eight of his foul shots, most of which were at pivotal moments, the senior made two plays that secured the win in the final moments.
With his team up just one and the shot clock running down, Wright found Freeman in the corner for an off-balance jumpshot to push the advantage to three with 48 seconds left. Nineteen ticks later, triple-teamed along the far sideline with the Hoyas up by one, he found a wide-open Nate Lubick for a two-handed dunk to make it 67-64 Georgetown.
Georgetown also got a big second-half lift from senior forward Julian Vaughn, who was relegated to the bench for most of the first 20 minutes in favor of junior center Henry Sims (five points, five rebounds). With Villanova center Mouphtaou Yarou out of the game for a stretch due to foul trouble, the Hoyas went down to Vaughn on multiple occasions. Whether on the offensive end or while he was grabbing rebounds or loose balls, Vaughn was fouled often and went to the line seven times, calmly sinking all seven shots.
“It was one of those situations where I felt more comfortable with [Sims] out there in the first half and more comfortable with [Vaughn] out there in the second half,” Thompson said. “Overall I think our frontcourt was okay.”
While he was somewhat hampered by his foul situation, junior guard Jason Clark chipped in 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, while Lubick was 4-for-4 from the floor with timely baskets throughout the game.
Playing perhaps their last game against the Hoyas, Fisher and Stokes were inconsistent for the Wildcats, but the pair combined for 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Sophomore guard Maalik Wayns added 15 points and senior forward Antonio Pena notched 10.
With the win, the Hoyas are now 7-1 against Villanova since 2007, and in his last three games against the Wildcats, Freeman has averaged almost 26 points per contest. Georgetown has turned 1-4 in the Big East into 5-4, and the Hoyas are now just three games out of the top spot in the league, which belongs to Pittsburgh at 8-1.
“Having Chris, Austin, Julian, Jason – guys that have been through this, we realize how long the year is, and that we had time to climb out, and we still are climbing out,” Thompson said. “There was no panic. We’ve been in situations where we start off fast and then not been able to hold on, so we’ve seen that side of it. Now we just are looking at it from a different perspective – there was an understanding that this is still a long season and that we had time.”
Next up for Georgetown is the Big East’s second-place team No. 23 Louisville (17-4, 6-2 Big East), whose ranking will go up by the time the Hoyas and Cardinals square off on Big Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Verizon Center.