Georgetown, with its patterned sets, screens and backdoor cuts, often gets shots close to the basket, which at least in part accounts for their season shooting percentage of nearly 50%. However, against West Virginia, several factors combined to keep the Hoyas out of their comfort zone.
The Mountaineers played perhaps one of their better defensive games despite yielding a 49% shooting night to the visitors at the WVU Coliseum. West Virginia played aggressively on the perimeter and forced Georgetown's offense away from the basket. That tactic usually allows for at least a few backdoor cuts, but West Virginia was ready for those tactics, and used a combination of fundamental play and use of the scouting report to keep the Hoyas from one of their bread-and-butter maneuvers.
"They usually try to center the ball, and they weren't able to do that," WVU head coach Bob Huggins said afterward. "We did a good job of reading and knowing the keys to when they were going to cut."
It was that pressure on the ball that helped the Mountaineers build their big lead, and kept Georgetown from getting comfortable in its offense until well after halftime. One of Huggins' prime defensive goals is to put pressure on the ball and disrupt opposing offenses, and that was clearly on display, especially in the first half. WVU forced 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and added another eight to that total after halftime. That's a high number for a Hoya team that typically values the ball and makes great decisions.
"We knew they were going to pressure us, and we were prepared for that," Hoya head coach John Thompson III noted. "I just think they did a better job of executing."
Granted, Georgetown was hurt by the loss of guard Austin Freeman, who did not play due to an unspecified flu-like illness that forced him to return to Washington, D.C., where he was admitted to the hospital. Freeman is one of the players that makes the Hoya offense run smoothly, and his absence was clearly a factor. However, West Virginia's defensive effort shouldn't be shortchanged. By putting pressure on the ball on the perimeter and denying some cuts and screens, the Mountaineers stopped many of Georgetown's offensive sets and turned their offense into a dribble-drive attack. That's not Georgetown's forte, and although they eventually adapted and got the ball into NBA-ready Greg Monroe for 22 points, it was clear that they Hoyas weren't in their comfort zone.
"We wanted to push them out of what they wanted to do, and I thought we did a pretty good job," Huggins analyzed.
The Hoyas eventually settled in, and added by a lapse of defensive intensity from West Virginia, were able to cut a 27-point deficit to as little as nine. During that stretch, West Virginia didn't pressure the ball as well as it had earlier, and also contributed by taking some bad shots on the offensive end. Still, the margin built by 30 minutes of excellent defensive play were too much for the Hoyas to overcome.
There were certainly other key areas to point to. West Virginia got the ball down the court quickly against Georgetown, and scored more easy baskets and got more chances in transition than at any time since the Rutgers game. For the most part, the Mountaineers made smart passes and got to the basket, resulting in a number of free throw attempts. Devin Ebanks, Da'Sean Butler and Truck Bryant combined to score 22 points from the line, and although a number of those came late as Georgetown fouled to get the ball back, just as many were the result of attacking the rim. WVU also shot the ball well in the first half, and nabbed its customary double-digit total of offensive rebounds. However, it was clearly the defensive effort that took the spotlight. WVU held the Hoyas to just 49 shot attempts, and only allowed a handful of uncontested shots close to the basket. On a night in which the seniors were in the spotlight, it was this unsung effort that held the true key to the game.