Posting its first tip-to-whistle domination of the month, No. 12 Georgetown turned in a 73-53 smothering of Cincinnati yesterday at Verizon Center to reclaim command of the Big East regular-season race.
With a rare post-weekend respite before Wednesday night's home date with St. John's, the Hoyas (22-4, 12-3 Big East) will watch today's matchups featuring top challengers Louisville (21-6, 11-3) and Notre Dame (20-5, 10-3).
The fourth team in the stretch-run title mix, Connecticut (21-6, 10-4) had its 10-game winning streak snapped yesterday at Villanova.
If the Hoyas continue to defend the way they did yesterday against the Bearcats (13-13, 8-6), they might not need any outside help to finish first again.
"They are by far the best defensive team we've played all year," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said after his Bearcats committed 18 turnovers and shot 36.4 percent. "It's very, very hard to get an open shot. And then when we did get an open shot, we didn't even hit the rim a couple of times. But I think that's a byproduct of how hard you have to work to get a shot against their defense."
Georgetown entered the game leading the nation in field goal percentage defense (.360) and turned in perhaps an even more impressive performance than the stat sheet might indicate against a team that had beaten all three of the Big East teams boasting victories over the Hoyas (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse).
The Hoyas harassed Cincinnati over the game's opening seven minutes. Paying special attention to sophomore Deonta Vaughn (13 points, four turnovers), Cincinnati's first 12 possessions produced just one field goal while give up two shot-clock violations, four Georgetown blocks (three by senior center Roy Hibbert), four errant 3-point attempts and three turnovers.
"Vaughn is a dangerous scorer, so we didn't want to give him any looks without a hand in his face," said guard Jessie Sapp, who had 16 points and four steals.
A brief lapse in intensity over the final 2:34 of the first half allowed Cincinnati to trim a 14-point deficit to 34-27 at halftime. But the Hoyas dispelled any suspense in the second half, riding Sapp and Hibbert (12 points, five blocks) to a 16-4 run, giving the Hoyas a 50-33 lead with 11:25 left.
Much as he did in similar early season routs, Georgetown coach John Thompson III used the rest of the game experimenting with different lineups.
The Hoyas led by as many as 25 points in the second half, as reserve center Vernon Macklin (four points, three rebounds), seldom-used senior swingman Tyler Crawford and practice players Bryon Jansen and Omar Wattad made appearances.
For the game, Georgetown held the Bearcats without a single post-up field goal and outscored them 27-10 off turnovers, by far the team's most lopsided margin against a Big East opponent this season.
The rout provided a rare stress-free league win for Georgetown, which had trailed in the second half in each of its previous four games. Perhaps the victory will relieve some media scrutiny, which the Hoyas have endured during their somewhat suspect February shuffle.
"I think people have been unjustly saying negative things about their team," Cronin said. "I've heard people say they weren't living up to expectations and they weren't blowing people out. Well, they play in the Big East. It's a long year.
"And when you play in the deepest conference in the history of college basketball, you're not going to blow everybody out, you're not going to make every shot. ... I know I'm glad we don't play them again."
Yesterday at Verizon Center
SEEN AND HEARD
Georgetown senior swingman Tyler Crawford was the luckiest man in Verizon Center yesterday after somehow escaping automatic ejection after leaving the bench during an altercation with 15:51 remaining.
With Georgetown leading by 10 at the under-16:00 media timeout, DaJuan Summers and several other Georgetown players wandered through the Cincinnati huddle to drop off a few barbs on their way to the Georgetown bench. Some shoving and posturing ensued, and Crawford came off the Georgetown bench and wound up about 50 feet away in the midst of the fray.
"It was during a timeout, and I think [Crawford] thought one of his teammates was in trouble," Thompson said in defense of Crawford. ...
"Let's Get Wattaded" read the student section's top sign yesterday. The student got his wish, as the Georgetown rout enabled coach John Thompson III to play freshman reserve Omar Wattad for the game's final two minutes.
BY THE NUMBERS
27-10Advantage for Georgetown in points off turnovers. The turnover-prone Hoyas have come out on the short end of that statistic in eight of 15 Big East games this season and had a season-best margin of plus-12 (vs. Notre Dame) in the category in league play through Friday's games.
— Barker Davis