MBB: Hoyas down ‘Cats in closing minute

Kyle Scudilla

In sports, especially at the collegiate level, the thought is that coach always knows best, and the players are there to heed the advice of their leader and chief strategist. Well, in the case of the Georgetown Hoyas (20-5, 10-2 Big East), that might be “almost always” after their 58-55 win over the Villanova Wildcats (18-8, 6-6), but Head Coach John Thompson III doesn’t mind if some of his ignored advice somehow leads to a big road victory for his team.

In a three-point game, many things could be looked at as a turning point or deciding moment, but one of the biggest plays came at the end of the first half, when Hoyas guard Jessie Sapp hit a half-court shot as time expired. At the time, Villanova was still winning, but every single point counts in a three-point victory in a tough road environment.

“The irony is I flustered him in practice the other day when he was practicing his half-court shots,” Thompson said. “I said, ‘hey, buddy, why don’t you work on your normal shots that you get every day, you’re not going to get that shot.’ I guess I don’t know everything.”

Sapp finished with 16 points, many of them in the second half to help the Hoyas outscore the Wildcats by five in the second half and win their 10th conference game this season, despite being out-rebounded and committing more turnovers than their opponents.

The biggest star on the day for Georgetown, from start to finish, was Jeff Green, who in 40 minutes led the team with 19 points and a career-high eight blocks. Green’s final four points ended up being the ultimate difference in a game that cost Villanova a chance to add what many experts are referring to as an elusive “signature win” to their NCAA Tournament resume.

“Obviously, it’s a tough loss,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said. “But to me, it’s just part of the journey. This journey this season is not over and we’ve got to got to go to work tomorrow and go play Marquette.”

The Wildcats seemingly caught a break in the first half, when Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, a 71 percent shooter this season, picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game and sat out the remainder of the first half. Forward Jeff Green stepped up and carried the load, scoring 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half. Scottie Reynolds answered the call for Villanova, countering Green’s stellar first half with a game-high 13 first-half points of his own. Villanova entered the half with the lead, but Georgetown threatened to steal the Wildcats’ momentum after Sapp’s mid-court shot went gracefully through the hoop just as the buzzer sounded.

The teams traded jabs to begin the second half. Shane Clark gave the ‘Cats a lift at the beginning of the half with two three-pointers from opposite corners of the floor. Sapp answered right back by getting off to a hot start in the second half, putting up nine points in the early portion of the half, including a three that gave Georgetown the lead after Villanova’s early scoring flurry.

The Hoyas jumped up 44-40 about midway through the second half when Hibbert picked up his fourth foul, once again leaving Georgetown without their 7-foot-2 junior. Villanova’s own front court duo of Sumpter and Sheridan stepped up and made back to back field goals to tie the game up at 44-44. The lead proceeded to change hands multiple times after that, with Sumpter answering the call for Villanova, hitting an NBA-range three and four straight free throws to contest Georgetown’s scoring plays.

A big three by Reynolds with three minutes left in the half put Villanova up 55-51, but Hibbert, back in the game with about four-and-a-half minutes to go in the half, answered with a bucket underneath to cut the lead down to two.

After a break in the action around the two-and-a-half minute mark, Georgetown’s defense forced a shot-clock violation, but their offense was unable to capitalize as Sheridan came up with a crucial block on Hibbert on the left block. DaJuan Summers went to the line after a missed three by Nardi and a foul on the rebound attempt, but hit just one of two free throws, maintaining the Villanova lead, 55-54, inside of one minute to go in regulation. After a near turnover, the ‘Cats were forced to call timeout with just three seconds on the shot clock and 48 seconds on the game clock. Hibbert blocked Cunningham’s baseline jumper, and following a Georgetown timeout, Green hit a huge mid-range jump-shot from the baseline to put the Hoyas up 56-55 with 19.8 seconds remaining.

“Everybody knows his physical ability,” Wright said of Green, “but to be smart enough to ball-fake there and have the composure to step in and take a two just shows how smart he is as a player. He’s as good as anybody in the league.”

Reynolds drove to the hoop, looking for contact and not getting any, but the loose ball was ruled to be out-of-bounds on Georgetown. The inbounds play set up an open three-point attempt by Clark from the same right corner he buried a big three from earlier in the half, but his shot banged off the right-side of the rim, with Georgetown grabbing the rebound and Green hitting two free throws to seal the game. A last second desperation three by Reynolds from the top of the key just missed, giving the Hoyas the 58-55 victory.

Summers was the third Hoyas player in double-figures with 11 points and, like fellow forward Green, set his career-high in blocks with four. Hibbert was limited to just four shot attempts and four points, but Villanova’s inability to execute a big offensive play in the game’s closing minutes is what cost them the game.

Reynolds led the ‘Cats with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-6 from deep. Sumpter had a big second half, scoring 11 of his 15 points to go along with eight rebounds for the game. Despite hitting some big second-half shots, something the Wildcats have done in a number of the close contests they’ve had at the Wachovia Center this season, they ended the game shooting below 35 percent.

‘Nova now heads to Milwaukee to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles, hoping to fly back to its campus having filled in that crucial gap still plaguing their bid to get invited to the Big Dance.