Free­man’s late surge lifts Hoyas

Se­nior scores 30 points as Ge­orge­town wins fourth straight game

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY TARIK EL- BASHIR

philadel­phia — A near-ca­pac­ity crowd was whipped into a frenzy in­side Wells Fargo Cen­ter, Vil­lanova’s de­fend­ers swarmed all over the court and a cru­cial Big East game had yet to be de­cided.

Austin Free­man, though, was the pic­ture of calm and cool amid the noise and pres­sure. The se­nior scored 10 of Ge­orge­town’s fi­nal 12 points, in­clud­ing a long jumper from the corner in the fi­nal minute, and fin­ished with 30 points to lift the 21st-ranked Hoyas to their fourth straight vic­tory, 69-66 over No. 8 Vil­lanova on Satur­day af­ter­noon.

“Austin Free­man, in most sit­u­a­tions, is un­flap­pable,” Ge­orge­town Coach John Thomp­son III said. “So that last three min­utes was just in­dica­tive of what he’s done here for four years. I tell you what: I’m glad num­ber 15 is on our team. There’s a com­fort level. [ Vil­lanova] was run­ning, jump­ing, trap­ping, tripling some­times. It made it hard to do any­thing.

But we felt that when he had the ball in his hands, good things hap­pen.”

Free­man’s third 30-point per­for­mance of the sea­son helped the Hoyas im­prove to 16-5 over­all, 5-4 in the con­fer­ence and ex­tend their long­est win­ning streak in league play since a run of six in a row in 2007-08. The Wild­cats, mean­time, suf­fered their first loss at home this sea­son (11-1) and their third de­feat in four games. After­ward, they lamented their in­abil­ity to stop Ge­orge­town’s lead­ing scorer.

“He made ev­ery play down the stretch,” Vil­lanova Coach Jay Wright said of Free­man, who grabbed four re­bounds and matched a ca­reer high with six as­sists. “And not just shots.”

De­spite own­ing leads of 11 and 10 points in the sec­ond half, the Hoyas found them­selves cling­ing to a one-point edge af­ter Corey Stokes and Maa­lik Wayns led a 6-0 charge that trimmed the vis­i­tors’ edge to 61-60.

That, as it turned out, was Free­man’s cue to seize con­trol. He scored a put­back of his own miss to re­store Ge­orge­town’s three-point ad­van­tage. Then, af­ter Corey Fisher knocked down a pair free throws, Free­man made one of the Hoyas’ biggest shots of the sea­son — with a lit­tle help from point guard Chris Wright.

Trapped against the side­line by two Wild­cats and out of time­outs, Wright mus­cled his way through the de­fend­ers and fired a cross-court pass to Free­man, who nailed a long jumper just in front of the Ge­orge­town bench to put the Hoyas ahead, 65-62, with 40.9 sec­onds left to play. Four sec­onds were on the shot clock when he launched the shot.

“I told you I’m strong,” cracked Wright, who had six as­sists but fin­ished with­out a point for the first time since his fresh­man sea­son. “ They tried to tackle me and I just tried to break through it.”

Free­man added, “When Chris passed me the ball, I at least wanted to get the ball on the rim.”

Mo­ments later, Free­man slipped out a trap near mid­court and ri­fled a pass to Nate Lu­bick (eight points, three as­sists) for a wide-open dunk to make the score 67-64. Again, the Wild­cats cut their deficit to a point, but af­ter Free­man made a pair of free throws (he’s made 23 in a row over the past four games), An­to­nio Pena and Do­minic Cheek each missed des­per­a­tion three­p­oint at­tempts as the Hoyas held on and im­proved to 15-0 when scor­ing 68 points or more.

One game af­ter shut­ting down St. John’s guards, Ge­orge­town’s de­fense, led by Wright and Lu­bick, limited the Wild­cats to 40.7 per­cent shoot­ing and con­tained Fisher, Wayns and Stokes, Vil­lanova’s perime­ter threats. Six Hoyas blocked at least one shot.

“De­fen­sive fo­cus has been bet­ter,” Thomp­son said. “Our guys are start­ing to take a lit­tle bit of own­er­ship and pride in, ‘I need to stop my man.’ ”

Since los­ing three straight games ear­lier this month, the Hoyas have fought their way back into con­tention in a con­fer­ence that’s been any­thing but pre­dictable. Satur­day’s win was an­other huge step.

Pitts­burgh Coach Jamie Dixon “said this a few weeks ago: The first part of the sea­son, Big East teams beat up on the rest of the coun­try,” Thomp­son said. “Now con­fer­ence play starts, we start to beat each other up and peo­ple out there are go­ing to start ques­tion­ing: ‘What’s wrong with this team? What’s wrong with that team?’ It’s life in the Big East. We had to climb out. And we still are climb­ing out.”

That climb will be much eas­ier if Free­man, the reign­ing con­fer­ence player of the week, keeps this up. He’s av­er­ag­ing 24.3 points dur­ing the win­ning streak.

“We all have roles, and Austin’s role is to score 30 points in games like this,” Wright joked. “On the de­fen­sive end, we were all fo­cused on guard­ing pen­e­tra­tion and con­tain­ing our guys and forc­ing them into tough shots. On of­fense, it was get the ball to Austin.”

MATT SLOCUM/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Nate Lu­bick had eight points as Ge­orge­town up­ended Vil­lanova for its fourth vic­tory in a row.

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