Reporting Bobby Bancroft
WASHINGTON – Georgetown defended the honor – at least what remains – of the Big East in the conference’s annual “Challenge” against the SEC by downing Tennessee on Friday night in what will likely be a game that few forget, even though temporary amnesia would be best served for most involved.
In one of the least aesthetically pleasing games in modern school history, No. 20 Georgetown squeaked by Tennessee 37-36 in a game that featured no double-figure scorers and not a single point in the game’s final 4:10.
Georgetown (5-1) held the Volunteers to 33 percent shooting from the field but managed just 36 percent on their end in the lowest scoring game in school history since the advent of the shot clock in the 1985-86 season.
Noticeably befuddled by what he just witnessed and after much thought, Coach John Thompson III was finally able to compare his team’s first game since entering the national rankings with an experience from his past, even if the details are a bit embellished and virtually impossible to fact check.
“Actually I have been a part of a game like this,” Thompson III joked, “when I was 8.”
“I was at St. Anthony’s, it was 13-11, I had ten and we won.”
Kidding aside, and Thompson III’s story drew a considerable laugh from all in attendance at the post game press conference, the Hoyas and Volunteers did play a game that will not soon be equaled in the record books.
In an complete oddity, Tennessee collected more rebounds (37) than points and scored a symmetrically 18 in each half.
In fact to find a Tennessee game that featured fewer total points, the school’s Sports information director pointed to an 11-6 win over Temple from 1973.
Following five straight lead changes that saw each team take a one-point advantage, Markel Stark’s jumper with 4:10 remaining gave the Hoyas a 37-36 lead. It was a lead the Hoyas would never surrender as both teams combined for six turnovers and zero points the rest of the way.
Greg Whittington, Otto Porter, and Mikael Hopkins each chipped in with 8 points apiece to lead the Hoyas in scoring. It was the first time since Thompson III took over the program in 2004 that the Hoyas have failed to produce a double-digit scorer in a victory.
“As frustrating as an offensive day as I’ve been a part of, that I can remember being a part of, but we still got stops, we still focused on defense…that’s not the worst thing in the world,” Thompson III said.
After Porter let a Whittington pass slip through his hands with 23 seconds remaining, the Hoyas defense was once again called into action.
Georgetown’s 2-3 zone forced Skylar McBee to miss his fifth three-pointer of the night before seeing one final desperation long distance heave by Jordan McRae miss wide in preserving Georgetown’s perfect 3-0 record in the Big East – SEC Challenge.
McBee, who came in shooting 42 percent from long distance, scored 8 points but was forced to take shots from further out than he would have normally liked due to Porter and Whittington’s length on the outside of that Hoyas zone.
“I take a lot of the responsibility for this,” McBee said after hitting just 2-of-7 from three-point range. I owe it to my team to take shots and that’s what I have to do. So the responsibility of that goes on me tonight.”
Georgetown came out in the second half on a 15-5 run after Starks’ smooth move to the basket around three defenders ended with a running bank shot to give his team the 31-23 advantage.
Tennessee (4-2) answered with a 9-0 run of their own to take a 32-31 lead after McBee’s second three-pointer of the game with 8:15 remaining.
Porter responded twenty seconds later to give to put the Hoyas in front 33-32 with a layup.
Georgetown would then proceeded to watch Tennessee implode from the line as the Volunteers missed four straight free throws.
For the game, Tennessee managed just 27 percent (3-of-11) from the foul line. With points at a premium, it would prove far too costly to overcome.
Despite the rough night, Thompson III was happy with the kinds of shots his Hoyas were able to get against a good Tennessee defense that all but eliminated the patented back cut Georgetown has become known for over the years.
“Going into halftime I felt that we were getting easy shots that we were missing,” Thompson said after his team trailed 18-16 at the break and hit just 6-of-22 shots.
“We were getting the ball in the paint, at the rim, and the ball just wasn’t going in.
So the last time the Hoyas scored less than 40 points and came out on top?
The year was 1984 and the setting was the second round of the NCAA Tournament against SMU when the game finished with the exact same score as Friday night.
The good news? Georgetown would go on to win its only National Championship a few weeks later in Seattle.
Thompson III didn’t bring up that game in his closing remarks but his team’s tough first half did conjure memories of that same tournament with his father, John Thompson Jr. at the helm.
“I started to tell the guys at halftime I was thinking back to the Georgetown- Kentucky game in the  Final Four where Kentucky came out at the half and just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Thompson III remembered as the Hoyas held Kentucky to 3-for-33 shooting performance and just 11 second half points in a 53-40 win.
“There was a lid on the basket, we just couldn’t put it in no matter how close we were, the ball just couldn’t go in.”
Notes: Junior forward Nate Lubick was limited to just 8 minutes – all in the first half- after suffering an apparent left arm injury. Lubick has appeared in all 71 games in his career but -according to Thompson III – the forward’s status is unknown pending x-ray results.
Up Next: Georgetown travels to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to take on Texas in the Jimmy V Classic. The Hoyas last played in the event in 2009 when the defeated Butler 72-62. The Hoyas lost their only previous meeting with Texas in January 1972.