- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — After a series of blowout victories, it seems Georgetown is now figuring out how to win the close contests as well.

The 14th-ranked Hoyas ran their winning streak to nine games yesterday with some stretch-run superlatives, topping Villanova 58-55 at Wachovia Center behind the inside-outside heroics of Jeff Green and Jessie Sapp.

The Hoyas (20-5, 10-2 Big East) now share the league’s top spot with Pittsburgh (23-4, 10-2). Georgetown visits reeling Cincinnati (10-15, 1-10) on Wednesday before returning home for a Saturday showdown with the Panthers.

Georgetown entered yesterday’s game having won by an average of 15.9 points a game during its streak. The Hoyas’ closest game during that stretch was an eight-point win at Louisville on Feb. 7.

But finally faced with a last-minute situation, Georgetown’s defense answered the call. The Hoyas held the Wildcats (18-8, 6-6) scoreless over the final 3:33. The 6-foot-9 Green put an exclamation point on his 19-point, nine-rebound, eight-block and four-assist performance by making a 12-foot baseline jumper with 19.8 seconds to give the Hoyas a 56-55 lead they would never relinquish.

“I just wanted the ball,” Green said. “I was in one of those zones where I was very confident in my shot. I work on that part of my game in practice every day, because the mid-range game is a lost art.”

Said Georgetown coach John Thompson III: “Jeff Green was pretty good today, huh?”

Thanks to yet another tremendous defensive effort from the Wildcats on Georgetown center Roy Hibbert (four points on four shots), the Hoyas needed every ounce of Green’s effort to escape Philadelphia with their streak intact.

Just as they did in a 56-52 victory over the Hoyas at the Verizon Center on Jan. 8, when Hibbert finished with just two points and no field goal attempts, the Wildcats completely suffocated Georgetown’s 7-2 focal point. Villanova forward Will Sheridan’s defense was a large reason why Hibbert didn’t attempt his first shot until the midpoint of the second half and logged only 18 minutes of playing time after sitting out all but four minutes of the first half in foul trouble.

While Villanova finished with a higher shooting percentage from both the field and 3-point range, out-rebounded Georgetown 35-31 and committed four fewer turnovers the Wildcats failed to earn a regular-season sweep of the Hoyas.

“Is that possible?” Thompson said. “I am not a stat person. I just know that our guys hung in there. …That team is playing at a very high level right now, so to come in here and win in front of this crowd, that’s a very good win.”

Behind the play of freshman guard and Herndon product Scottie Reynolds (18 points, four assists), Villanova led by as many as 11 points in the first half before Georgetown used a 9-0 run — including a halfcourt heave by Sapp — to pull within 29-27 at halftime.

Sapp finished with 16 points and five rebounds.

“There wasn’t too much poetry going on out there today,” Thompson said. “But that happens sometimes. I think we were put in situations where you have to make plays offensively and not worry about running plays. Our guys had to just come down and make plays, and Jessie was pretty good in that regard.”

In the final 3:33 though, it was Sapp’s defense that made the difference. After predominantly employing a zone on the Wildcats in the first half, Thompson switched almost exclusively to a man-to-man defense in the second half, sticking Sapp on Reynolds.

“I just wanted to stay in front of him — sit down, spread out and force him to pick up his dribble without giving up an open jumper,” said Sapp, who held Reynolds to just five points after intermission. “Locking him down was huge, because he was really hurting us in the first half.”

Never was that defensive effort more apparent than on the Wildcats’ final few possessions, when Villanova yielded a shot clock violation and a last-second desperation heave (from Reynolds) surrounding just one decent look — a missed 3-pointer by Dan Cage from the right corner with eight seconds remaining.

“They were just outstanding [defensively],” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Scottie was trying to drive the ball and couldn’t get by them. I thought they just did a great job clamping down on those last couple of possessions. We had the ball in the right people’s hands; we had it in Scottie’s hands, [senior forward Curtis Sumpter]’s hands. I just give them credit for great defense.”

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