WASHINGTON - Put the commander in chief on the front row, and Georgetown beats Duke with its best shooting game in 30 years.
With President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden munching popcorn in some of the best seats in the house, the No. 7 Hoyas put on a couldn’t-miss performance against No. 8 Duke, shooting 71.7 percent in Saturday’s 89-77 win.
“The crowd was pumped up, Obama was there, so it was exciting,” Georgetown guard Chris Wright said. “I think we all came out with a little bit more energy than usual. We were all over the place, defensively and offensively.”
It couldn’t have been a much bigger day for Georgetown: the president attending his first Hoyas game, the first sellout of the season in the 20,000-seat Verizon Center, a crowd mostly sporting “We Are Georgetown” T-shirts in a school-sponsored “gray out,” the 200th win for coach John Thompson III, the launch of an initiative for Darfur schools, and, of course, the much-detested empire from the Atlantic Coast Conference in the building.
“It was good, everything about it — from who was there, to how we played against a terrific team, against a well-coached team, against a team that’s one of the best teams in the country,” said Thompson, who is 200-97 over six seasons with Georgetown and four at Princeton, “So the stars were aligned properly.”
Wright seemed pumped for it all, scoring 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting and making two defensive plays that helped ignite an 18-3 run that gave the Hoyas the lead for good in the first half. Greg Monroe also finished with 21 points, and Austin Freeman added 20 for Georgetown (16-4), which shot 77 percent in the first half.
The 71.7 shooting percentage for the game tied the third highest mark in school history and was the best since the Hoyas shot 71.9 against St. John’s in 1980. Georgetown nearly had the best shooting game ever against Duke, just shy of a 73.3 percent game by UCLA in 1965.
“We could never match their emotion,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “The place was electric. Their team was electric, and they played that way for 40 minutes.”
Nolan Smith scored 19 points, Kyle Singler had 18 before fouling out with 2:10 to play, and Jon Scheyer added 17 for the Blue Devils (17-4), who shot only 37 percent.
Duke committed 15 turnovers — actually one fewer than Georgetown — but five of them came in a two-minute, first-half meltdown while the Hoyas were pulling ahead to stay.
First, Wright blocked Smith from behind on an outside jump shot, then seconds later stole the ball from Smith under the basket. Then came turnovers by Miles Plumlee, Smith and two by Scheyer, including a charging call. Jerrelle Benimon and Hollis Thompson each got a steal during the run, a needed boost from the thin Georgetown bench.
By the time the run was over, Duke had gone nearly four minutes without a field goal, and Georgetown was ahead 34-20. The lead was 46-33 at the half.
The Blue Devils tried in vain to make a game of it in the second half. A pair of early 3-pointers cut the lead to seven, but two more turnovers led to a 6-0 run and restored Georgetown’s 13-point lead.
“When a team’s playing that well, sometimes they put you in a position where you hurry, or you scurry,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not just their defense that does it, but the presence that that team has that day that forces you to make quick decisions.”
The Blue Devils cut the deficit to seven again at 52-45, but Monroe stopped that momentum with a spin move in the paint and a big pump of the arm to celebrate. There were plenty of free throws the rest of the way in a game that had nearly as many fouls (52) as rebounds (54).
The game provided a tough break for both schools from their demanding conference schedules. It was their fourth meeting in five years, with the home team winning each time.
“They’re really good, and I think we’re good,” Krzyzewski said. “But we weren’t good today.”
The schools used the game to help publicize a new initiative to raise money for schools in refugee camps in the Darfur region of Sudan. NBA star Tracy McGrady, who has traveled to Darfur and helped start the campaign, also attended the game.
But he was overshadowed by the really important guy seated near the student section, who was serenaded by chants of “Yes, we can!” as Georgetown closed out the victory. If the Hoyas had any nerves about playing before the president, they didn’t show it.
“Extremely happy that the president was there,” Thompson said. “But we were more nervous about the guys sitting on the other bench.”
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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