Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but nobody that witnessed Georgetown's 37-36 win over Tennessee on Friday night could romanticize the game itself as a many-splendored thing. Not when the game-winning basket and the final points came with 4:10 remaining or when not a single player scored in double figures or when both teams shot less than 30 percent from the field before halftime. You agree, right John Thompson III?
"That wasn't nice to watch? Some people would look at that as a thing of beauty," the Georgetown coach cracked after the offensively challenged, but defensively imposing contest. "I don't know that I've been a part of a game like that."
Nobody else participating in a Georgetown game over the last 30 years has either. The scoring total represented the team's lowest since the Patrick Ewing led Hoyas defeated SMU by the same 37-36 score in the second round of the 1984 NCAA Tournament before going on to win the National Championship.
Of course, that game had the excuse of not being played in the shot clock era. There were no four corners or other antiquated tactics in the Big East-SEC matchup between the No. 20 Hoyas (5-1) and Volunteers (4-2). Just plenty of misfiring and miscues, especially after a Markel Starks jumper before the final media timeout capped the scoring and gave Georgetown that insurmountable one-point lead.
With the final six baskets came six lead changes. With the final four minutes came seven field goal attempts - all without success including three by Georgetown - plus six turnovers before the Verizon Center crowd of 13,656.
"The shots just didn’t fall, it’s not like we weren’t taking good shots for the most part," said Otto Porter, whose eight points matched Greg Whittington and Mikael Hopkins for team-high honors. "We just had to continue to play."
Georgetown did not even attempt a shot over the final 2:20. Porter's mishandling of a Whittington pass sent the ball out of bounds with 22.6 seconds remaining, setting Tennessee up with a final possession.
Yet as was the case throughout, the Hoyas defense rose up. The Volunteers struggled against Georgetown's schemes, especially with its lengthy zone defenders. The final five seconds was no different as Skylar McBee missed from beyond the arc and after Tennessee maintained possession, Jordan McRae the same at the buzzer.
McBee and Trae Golden each scored eight points for the Volunteers, who finished with more rebounds (37) than points, but never trailed by more than eight. Tennessee missed 8 of 11 free throws and shot 18.8 percent (3 of 16) from 3-point range, all leading to its fewest point total since scoring 35 against Auburn in 1997.
"If we win 10-9, I wouldn’t call it a frustrating game, if we get a chance to win it at the end," McBee said. "We didn’t shoot as well as we thought we could. Credit is due to Georgetown, they did a good job on that zone and they are a lengthy team and they make it tough out there."
Georgetown held power forward Jarnell Stokes to four points and only three field goal attempts. Porter was asked how the Hoyas were able to take Tennessee's leading scorer out of the game when Thompson jumped in and whispered, "Everybody was out of the game offensively."
Certainly, that was the case during the first half. Both teams were inaccurate whether from deep (combined 2 of 13) close - Hopkins alone missed at least three open layups - or at the free throw line (6 of 14).
Despite Nate Lubick going in and out of the lineup with a left elbow injury and Starks saddled with two early fouls, the Hoyas cobbled together enough points for a 12-4 midway through the first half. After a Hopkins free throw put Georgetown up 16-11 with 2:08 remaining, Tennessee closed the half with a 7-0 run for 18-16 halftime lead.
"We were getting easy shots that we were missing," Thompson said. "We were getting the ball right at the rim and the ball just wasn't going in."
Georgetown jumped ahead 31-23 with 12:10 remaining, but Tennessee countered with a 9-0 run, setting up the back and forth - and unsightly - finish.
Thompson: "I don't think we need to make that many adjustments offensively in the second half and then we came out and did the exact same thing."
The Hoyas coach acknowledged it "difficult to find too many positives" even after the win before coming up with an upside takeaway for his young squad.
"A lot of times it's easy, particularly for a young team that when you're not scoring to not play defense," Thompson remarked. "When you're not scoring to focus and not get stops. As frustrating as an offensive day that I can remember being a part of, we still got stops."
As for not recalling being part of a game so offensively suspect, Thompson's memory improved by the end of the press conference.
"Actually, I have been part of a game like this. I think I was eight...Game ended 13-11. I had 10 - and we won that game too."
At least that game had a double figure scorer.
Notes...Injured early in the game, Lubick played only eight minutes, none in the second half and will undergo X-rays, Thompson said. According to the coach, his junior forward "hit his elbow" and described a "tingling sensation in his fingers."...Georgetown has won 39 non-conference games at the Verizon Center dating back to the 2006-07 season...The Hoyas play Texas at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic.