WASHINGTON, D.C. – Perched bench-side of Capital One Arena, Jamion Christian knelt with his right hand covering the side of his face and left eye peering down the far end of the floor as frustration settled in. With under eight minutes left in the first half, the Mount had multiple possessions to keep its deficit that slowly climbed within single digits.
The ball movement Christian has tirelessly preached and harped to his unseasoned Mountaineers team came to life against the athletically superior and mountainous frontcourt of Georgetown. They generated clean look after clean look, plating premium opportunities for trusted shooters in Junior Robinson, Jonah Antonio, Donald Carey and Greg Alexander to keep a contest scheduled as a stepping stone within distance of an upset. But the hoisted looks from deep sparsely found the bottom of the net, either ricocheting off the front or back of the rim, or sailing a hair wide. Some cruelly toilet-bowled and popped out.
Georgetown, meanwhile, drilled contested looks left and right in a 60-percent first-half shooting performance, a sense of demoralization for a Mount team that stammered from deep (8-for-33 on 3-pointers; 25-for-65 overall). Wednesday night ended in a 102-68 loss roughly two hours south of home, but Christian’s perspective soon flipped, knowing he’ll pack up with a few bright spots to build off.
After being down 54-36 at halftime in spite of a 28.6 percent first-half performance from deep (4-for-14), and soon falling behind by 26, the Mount brought it to within 66-52 at the 12:54 mark. And, despite Georgetown’s length, the Mount assisted on 14 of its 26 buckets, largely off pick and roll and pick and pop opportunities.
“Obviously not the night we envisioned, but I think that has a lot to with Georgetown,” Christian said. “They had a very good night tonight. I’m giving them all the credit. I think we can play better. I think a large part of that has to do with how well they played. [Patrick Ewing] is doing a great job with them. I’m excited for having this opportunity to be here at Georgetown.
“We try every year to put our guys in the best position to be successful. I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that, but it’s not where we need to be at yet. … A large part of that is trying to get these guys to understand and the preparation that’s needed to do it. But these guys are putting their hearts on the line every night. I thought we got some great looks. … We’re going to keep getting better.”
Robinson added: “I was happy with the shots we were getting, they just didn’t fall.”
Another encouraging sign was ball control. In the first two games of the season against Marquette and Notre Dame, they turned it over a combined 29 times. On Wednesday, that number was nine.
“That’s the best we played a team guarding a ball screen that way, so that’s really encouraging to know the stuff we’re putting in, our guys are understanding it,” Christian said. “Nine turnovers are obviously key.”
And while Christian expressed frustration – not toward his players, but the fact shots weren’t falling while the Hoyas (39-for-68 overall; 11-for-22 from deep) converted theirs – he had moments of jubilation. During the 14-2 run highlighted by treys from Carey (14 points, six assists), Antonio (six points on 2-for-15 shooting, five rebounds) and Robinson (26 points, four assists) that made it a 14-point game midway through the second, Christian illuminated with energy.
“I loved our fight in the second half,” Christian said. “I really thought our group was coming together there, and I like that. Those are moments you have to take from that.”
Georgetown pounded the ball into the post on the substantially smaller Mountaineers unit from the onset, and eventually finished with 48 points in the paint. The Hoyas also handled the boards, hauling in 51 rebounds – 14 offensive catalyzing 18 second chance points – compared to the Mount’s 23 total and zero second chance poits.
On Wednesday, the Hoyas’ starting frontcourt consisted of 6-6, 205-pound three-man Kaleb Johnson; 6-7, 250-pound forward Marcus Derrickson; and 6-10, 270-pound center Jessie Govan. The Mount, meanwhile, went with 6-8, 190-pound forward Bobby Planutis (scoreless in 16 minutes) and 6-10, 240-pound center Ryan Gomes (12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and four rebounds) in the frontcourt. Antonio, who is 6-5, 180 pounds, started at the three spot.
Robinson and Carey rounded out the backcourt in a lineup that Christian has gone with for three straight games to start the season. Senior forward Chris Wray, arguably the team’s best defender, remains sidelined as he recovers from a broken wrist he sustained in July. Though it likely wouldn’t have affected the outcome, there were many moments on Wednesday night the Mount were in dire need of Wray’s presence.
Govan, who totaled 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting and 14 rebounds, lifted Georgetown out of an early 6-6 tie with a 3-ball and shortly after, converted a four-point play that pushed the Hoyas’ lead to 15-8. Georgetown made eight straight shots during a stretch that padded its lead to 48-30 in the late minutes of the first half.
While the Mount (0-3) did pull to within 14 in the second, Georgetown (2-0) set sails from there.
The Mountaineers will now travel to South Carolina where they’ll play North Florida at 4 p.m. this Saturday in the Maui Invitational. After that, it’s the home-opener versus Division III York (Pa.) and banner ceremony in light of last year’s Northeast Conference tournament and regular season titles.
“It’s just a great learning experience for everyone, if you’re really able to take it in and have a level of self-awareness,” Christian said. “We have a great group of guys who do that. It’s worked for us in the past. … They’re dejected with how they played today; I thought we could’ve played better. But, tomorrow, when the sun comes up, we’ll have a positive group of guys getting ready to attack the next challenge.”