The ugliest wins are often the most satisfying.
In some respects, Georgetown might have played its worst game of the season Saturday against No. 17 Memphis. The 19th-ranked Hoyas (7-1) shot the ball miserably, missing more uncontested 3-pointers and key free throws than in any other game this season. They gave up 25 offensive rebounds to the Tigers (5-2), who tallied 14 points on putbacks in the first half alone. And they even tipped three balls into their own bucket while battling for rebounds, the last of which forced overtime in a game that didn’t deserve any more exposure.
But despite that combination of poor form and fortune, the Hoyas persevered for a 79-70 victory.
“I’m going to get a stomachache watching the tape because we did not play well,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose team returns to the floor next Saturday vs. Mount St. Mary’s. “But we made plays when we had to, and we can win games not playing well. I thought it was good for this group to play in a tough, tight game like that and come away with a win. I think that was very important. And I think they understand that we can be a lot better, a lot better than we were today.”
The star of the contest between two of the longer teams in the nation was the smallest player on the floor - 6-foot-1 Georgetown sophomore Chris Wright (14 points). Wright provided an offensive spark for the Hoyas’ halting offense and snuffed Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans (20 points) late in the second half and in overtime.
“Wright hurt us,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “He was the difference. They had one guy who controlled the game, and we didn’t. That’s why you lose.”
Georgetown’s plan entering the game was for senior Jessie Sapp to check Evans, who uses his muscular 6-6 frame and explosive first step to dominate off the dribble. But Sapp got in early foul trouble trying to match Evans’ speed. And early in the second half it was clear that Wright was the only player on Georgetown’s roster quick enough to stay in front of Evans.
Locked on Evans in the man-to-man look the Hoyas stayed in all game, Wright harassed Evans into misses on seven of his last eight field goal attempts. Evans was 1-for-5 from the field in the overtime period as the Hoyas slowly pulled away behind points from every player in Thompson’s six-man rotation in the extra period.
“Chris Wright gives you an honest effort,” Thompson said. “He works his behind off. He’s growing up. … He made big plays, and not just baskets.”
The Tigers got 23 points and 11 rebounds from forward Shawn Taggert.
Wright’s defense and an aggressive performance from junior forward DaJuan Summers (21 points, seven rebounds) helped the Hoyas offset a 4-for-20 effort from behind the 3-point arc. Realizing their shots weren’t falling, Summers and Wright compensated by attacking the basket off the dribble, a rarity in the Princeton offense but a welcome one that earned the Hoyas a 36-15 edge in free throw attempts.
“We had to fight through some things,” Wright said. “Obviously, when our shots weren’t falling we had to dig down on the defensive end and get some stops. Sometimes we’re going to have games when we hit our shots, and today wasn’t one of them. I think today was a big step for us. I think grinding it out and winning this game was very important for us. We fought through a lot of adversity that entire game.”
Calipari came away impressed with Georgetown’s resolve after the Hoyas ran the nation’s fifth-longest homecourt winning streak to 27 games and avenged last season’s loss to the Tigers.
“My hat’s off to John Thompson and the job he’s done,” Calipari said. “To lose what they had [last season] and to have a team that had that much desire to win anyway and have the swagger they have is impressive. I’ve got to give it to them because there were times we had a chance to get the lead to eight or 10, and they just said, ‘Nope, not happening.’”