- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2019

Coaches around the Big East are watching Mac McClung.

“A guy like that, he’s a born scorer. Once he gets it going, it’s hard to stop,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said after his defending national champion Wildcats lost 85-73 to McClung and his Georgetown teammates on Wednesday.

“The biggest key for him is he’s a fearless competitor and a winner,” Creighton assistant coach Steve Merland said ahead of Georgetown’s visit to Creighton Saturday.

But what might be the most standout comment belonged to Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski back in January.

“The thing I love about Mac is that he knows he belongs,” Wojciechowski said.

At first glance, if a passerby didn’t know that McClung set the Virginia high school scoring record before arriving at Georgetown, he wouldn’t look like he “belongs.”

A baby-faced guard who is listed at 6-foot-2 but seems shorter than that on the court, McClung poured in 21 points Wednesday in the win over Villanova thanks to an especially hot start. He made his first five field goal attempts, the first four of them coming from behind the arc.

McClung showed off his speed, his long range — and something he isn’t usually lauded for, his defense.

Villanova guard Collin Gillespie was held to two points in the first half and 13 for the game after dropping 30 on the Hoyas in the teams’ previous meeting.

Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing was frank about what he thought changed Wednesday.

“Thought Mac did a better job this day,” Ewing smiled. “He did a much better job.”

“We were just more alert,” McClung added. “We know they can shoot the ball. Coach strategized more on the 3-pointer and closing out to them. And we know they’re a good shooting team, so we tried to close out faster and better.”

Though a fan favorite at Georgetown games, McClung has fought inconsistency in his first year of college. His high point total for a Big East game is 25, set on the road against a good St. John’s team, but he was held to four and three points in two of the Hoyas’ last five games.

Georgetown (16-10, 6-7 Big East) must hope McClung has found his stride on both ends of the floor as the conference schedule winds down.

The Big East is an enigma: Only two teams are ranked nationally, Marquette and Villanova, and third place and last place are separated by two games in the standings. Yet every team’s overall record is above .500.

“It shows how competitive our league is,” Ewing said. “One win could put you all the way up to third and one loss could put you all the way to the bottom. … Every game counts to the run to the Big East Tournament.”

Ewing also said his team has aspirations to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Hoyas weren’t necessarily in that conversation before, but after the upset of Villanova, NCAA.com’s Andy Katz included Georgetown as a First Four team in his latest bracketology projection Thursday.

A national stage for McClung? That could be precisely where he belongs.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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